If you’re like most house hunters these days, you started your search online – probably with Zillow or Realtor.com, the two most popular portals that list houses for sale anywhere and everywhere.

Lew Sichelman

Chances are, you overlooked Homes.com entirely. But starting in the new year, the site is planning to give the two heavyweights a run for their money. And by this time next year, industry consultant Mike DelPrete predicts, chances also are good it will have become the No. 1 starting point for most people.

Homes.com has already shot past Redfin, the third most popular portal, in terms of average unique monthly users, according to DelPrete. And it is within a whisker of unseating Realtor.com – the official site of the National Association of Realtors, the troubled trade group for realty agents and brokers.

But Zillow is still the clear leader, with roughly 225 million average unique monthly users. That figure dwarfs Realtor.com’s 75 million or so. For the record, both Zillow and Redfin are public companies, and though it is affiliated with NAR, Realtor.com is owned by News Corp., a holding company run by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Homes.com was a sleepy little enterprise until it was acquired in 2021 by the CoStar Group, a company that made its chops in the commercial real estate sector. (Full disclosure: I provided content on a regular basis for Homes.com before it was acquired by CoStar.)

Now, DelPrete reports that CoStar is about to invest nearly $600 million to boost brand awareness among both consumers and realty professionals.

That “massive investment,” he said, is going to result in a “multibillion-dollar game of financial chicken [that] will certainly shake up the portal landscape and will force competitors to change strategy – if they can – or risk the specter of irrelevancy.”

This brewing behind-the-scenes battle for eyeballs matters to homebuyers and sellers because Homes.com is building a vast library of exclusive content that’s actually good for consumers. Its rich database covers some 20,000 neighborhoods throughout the country, including custom promotional videos created by a team of more than 1,000 employees.

To attract more listings to its site, the portal is targeting agents with the promise that their names, and no one else’s, will be on the houses they are selling. The other sites essentially auction off top billing on listings to any agent who wants to pay a fee, often leaving the listing agent way down on the line of contacts.

Peddling lists to the highest bidder is a major source of irritation among agents, which is why DelPrete said some 97 percent of all agents don’t play the “buying leads” game. That one key difference is where CoStar is betting it can win the pending war.

Homes.com and Realtor.com are already engaged in a war of words, with CoStar CEO Andy Florance maintaining that Murdoch-owned Realtor.com is taking “cheap shots” at his company. With its “your listing, your lead” philosophy, Florance said, his site is the “most pro-agent portal” in the business. Stay tuned.

Listings Buzzwords Changing

A picture may paint a thousand words, but words themselves still matter, especially when you are trying to sell your house.

These days, most people start their home search online, hunting with various criteria – the number of bedrooms, perhaps, or a certain community or neighborhood. And yes, once the list of houses pops up, the places that draw the first looks are usually those with the best pictures.

Beyond that, though, certain key words are essential in grabbing a would-be buyer’s attention. And according to a 2022 study of the hottest real estate buzzwords, “beautiful” is out; “spacious” is in.

There’s nothing wrong with telling the world your house is pretty. But “spacious” addresses exactly what most buyers are looking for: a place to spread out. That’s why the words “room,” “space” and “open floor plan” were the most used, per the study of some 730,000 listings on the Point2Homes.com website.

Of course, listings almost always mention the basics like bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and flooring. But “garage” and “parking” were the amenities that came up the most often, followed by “patio/porch” and “yard.” The word “storage” popped up frequently, too.

A Bad Kind of Record

As we kiss 2023 goodbye, let the record show that this was the least-affordable year to buy a house in a decade, according to Redfin economists.

Someone earning the country’s median income – $78,642 – would need to spend 41.4 percent of that on monthly housing costs to purchase a median-priced house – $408,806 – in 2023. That’s the most since the brokerage firm started keeping records in 2012.

The median monthly payment for principal and interest this year was a record $2,715.

So goodbye, 2023. Here’s hoping things turn out better in 2024.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.

New Entrant Wades into Listings Portal War

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 3 min