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Originally published Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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No reason to fear Zillow, real-estate industry told

Since Zillow launched 20 months ago, the data-rich home-valuation site based in Seattle has endured prolonged suspicion from real-estate...

Seattle Times business reporter

LAS VEGAS — Since Zillow launched 20 months ago, the data-rich home-valuation site based in Seattle has endured prolonged suspicion from real-estate agents that its eventual aim is to sell houses.

Addressing the National Association of Realtors annual convention here Wednesday, Rich Barton, Zillow's founder and chief executive, stressed their jobs are safe even though Zillow has ambitious plans to extend its reach ever deeper into the industry.

Zillow's original online offering, its trademarked Zestimates, uses complex mathematical formulas to estimate the worth of nearly every home in the country. Providing that information free has garnered it 4 million unique visits a month, two-thirds of them from homebuyers or sellers.

Continuing to push the technology to innovate will allow Zillow to fulfill its mission, Barton said.

"We're very passionate about our homes. What we're trying to do is bring all that passion into the marketplace," he said. "What Zillow wants to be long-term is an online version of the neighborhood newspaper."

Zillow's bread and butter is selling ads to firms involved in the real-estate industry, although real-estate brokers and agents are allowed to post some content for free.

Now agents can feed their complete listings of homes for sale onto Zillow. Sometime next year, Barton said, they'll be able to add "virtual sold signs" online so site visitors can easily see which agents sell the most homes.

Another new feature, aimed at garnering ads for its site, is based on predicting which homes are in flux.

"We believe we can make a good prediction about who's about to move or remodel. That will provide marketing opportunities," Barton said. He gave no time frame for adding this feature.

Barton also said Zillow plans to be even more interactive. In the future, the site will allow visitors to counsel each other about home matters, Barton said.

"Should I paint my house white or yellow? In the future they'll be able to ask others that," he said.

Also on the drawing board is a feature that would allow people driving through a neighborhood to receive a flow of information about the homes they're passing. While some real-estate firms already offer a version of this, Zillow's would have data on all homes, not just those for sale.

Zillow is also working on adding raw land and the international market to its database. Barton, who owns a vacation home in Whistler, B.C., said he'd like to replicate Zillow's offerings in Canada. The challenge is to get the necessary home data, but he sounded confident that would eventually happen.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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