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Zillow focusing on real estate

SEATTLE — SEATTLE -- After months of intense speculation in the real estate industry, the newest company in the field, supersecretive Zillow.com, said yesterday that it is introducing a Web feature that eventually will allow anyone nearly anywhere in the nation to accurately calculate the worth of his home or almost any home they choose.

Zillow is the brainchild of Rich Barton, the former Microsoft executive who created Expedia in 1994. Expedia revolutionized the travel industry by transforming it from a service-oriented business into a self-service business. Expedia brought in $1.6 billion in revenue in the nine months that ended Sept. 30.

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Industry watchers have speculated that Zillow also would revolutionize the real estate business. But in the increasingly competitive online world, Zillow.com is not revolutionary in offering Internet-based home valuations.

Zillow launched a 2-terabyte database yesterday. That's 2,000 gigabytes, larger than Expedia's, said Barton, Zillow's chairman and chief executive.

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The beta version of Zillow.com contains information on more than 60 million U.S. homes. Eventually, it hopes to have data on 110 million.

Without having to reveal any information about themselves or pay a fee, consumers can enter an address to see the value of a home along with satellite, aerial or parcel views of the property.

Other sites that provide valuations do so only for a home that is for sale. Zillow provides that information for all homes in the neighborhood. Valuations are updated daily.

The site also is unique in providing a month-by-month 10-year appreciation history for each property, details gleaned from public records, such as square footage and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Owners' names will not be available.

In addition, the site will allow homeowners to see how much equity a major home improvement or remodel might add.

"We hope this provides transparency so consumers will be able to more aggressively negotiate with service providers," Barton said.

That transparency is what Expedia gave consumers. But unlike Expedia, Zillow will not sell anything.

Barton is confident that the power of information is great enough to attract consumers and advertisers to the site.

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Homebuyers "have been shopping in the store with a flashlight," he said. "They've never been able to see the whole store. "Now we're turning on the lights. Buyers can see home values to avoid overpaying. Sellers can use our home-valuation tools to arrive at the right selling price. And owners can track the value of their most important asset."

Traditionally, buyers and sellers have had to rely on an appraiser or their real estate agents for such information. Recently, Web sites have devised ways of providing valuations.

Zillow is going up against HouseValues.com of Kirkland, Wash., which offers homeowners free valuations through real estate agents who pay HouseValues for the referrals.

A new California firm, HomeSmartReports, provides homeowners with specific property and neighborhood valuations for a $24.95 fee.

Barton and his team looked at many options before they determined that what consumers want most is accurate information that they can use to buy or sell.

He plans to add features to the site, a task occupying Zillow's staff of 75 in downtown Seattle.

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The management team includes Chief Technology Officer David Beitel, President Lloyd Frink and Garrett McAuliffe, vice president of development. All have held high-level positions at Expedia and Microsoft.

Others have brought expertise from Hotwire and Amazon.com.

Zillow received $32 million from Benchmark Capital, Technology Crossover Venture and others.


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