Zillow, the real estate website known for estimating house values, said on Tuesday that it would exit the business of rapidly buying and selling houses amid heavy losses and that it planned to let go about nearly 25 percent of its employees.
The announcement was a major strategic retreat and a black eye for Richard Barton, Zillow’s chief executive, who founded the company 16 years ago and has long talked about transitioning Zillow’s popular website into a marketplace. Last year, Mr. Barton predicted Zillow Offers, which made instant offers on homes in a practice known as iBuying, could generate $20 billion a year.
On Tuesday, Zillow, which said it has 8,000 employees, said the division had been the source of huge losses and had made the company’s overall bottom line unpredictable. Zillow Offers lost more than $420 million in the three months ending in September, roughly the same amount that the company had earned in total during the prior 12 months. “We’ve determined the unpredictability in forecasting home prices far exceeds what we anticipated,” Mr. Barton said in a statement accompanying its quarterly financials.
Mr. Barton, speaking on a conference call with analysts on Tuesday afternoon, said the decision had “weighed heavily” on him. “We could blame the current losses on exogenous market events,” Mr. Barton said. “But it would be naïve to predict that unpredictable events won’t happen in the future.”
In all the company lost nearly $330 million in the third quarter, which was far worse than Wall Street analysts had predicted. The company made a $40 million profit in the same period a year ago.
Shares of Zillow have fallen more than 50 percent from a high of nearly $200 in February, when it was still a darling of investors as the housing market heated up. The stock dropped 11.5 percent on Tuesday to about $85.50 before it released its financials, and a further 7.5 percent in after-hours trading. (Even so, Zillow’s shares are worth double what they were at the beginning of the pandemic.)
Source: The New York Times