Clash of the Real Estate Titans: Zillow vs. Trulia

Which website is better?

Clash-1

Zillow.com and Trulia.com are the two most popular real estate websites, where the majority of consumers go when they’re trying to find a home to buy. What you’ll find on both is syndicated information — listings copy written by the realtor; photos provided by the realtor; info about number of beds, baths, etc. But each portal, as they’re called, ups the ante by supplementing syndicated information with customized features: maps, lists of homes that have sold and how much they’ve sold for, property history, neighborhood amenities, etc.

As with the travel industry, consumers can now do much of their research online, which changes the role of real estate brokerages. For many consumers, an independent brokerage is no longer the first stop along the home-buying journey.

Companies like Zillow and Trulia don’t necessarily think of themselves as being in the business of real estate. Spencer Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, describes Zillow as a media company. In his first-quarter earnings call in May, he said: “We sell ads. We don’t sell houses.”

Still, there’s a lot of bad blood between the real estate industry and the portals, which are perceived by some to be eating the industry’s lunch. Will creating a Zillow/Trulia behemoth help the relationship or harm it? For consumers, it depends on which features get absorbed if they do merge.

Let’s take a look at some of the differences.

As a reporter, I don’t think I use the sites in the same way a house buyer or seller might. I often favor Zillow purely for ease of use because Trulia is, well, a pain in the ass. It’s buggy and complicated and I just prefer white space to endless scrolling. You may feel differently.

Here are some samples.

If I want to buy a home in Rittenhouse Square, let’s say, and I go to each portal and type in “Rittenhouse Square” on the homepage, here’s what I get:

First search results from Trulia.com

First search results from Trulia.com

First search results with Zillow.com

First search results from Zillow.com

I don’t know about you, but I already prefer Zillow because it doesn’t have a pop-up asking me to be aggravated.

It’s not just that, of course. There are countless little things that add up to minutes, which, when you’re in real estate writing, add up to hours. When I want to go back to a previous version of a search after I’ve used a filter, for instance, Zillow has a prominent link marked “Show All Results.” But with Trulia I have to use the Back button, which often takes me someplace strange, or go back into the filters and reset them. Who has time for that?

Trulia’s homepage is cooler; you can imagine it as a homepage for a design firm. The company partners with Houzz.com, which makes it even more savvy. Everyone likes colorful pretty things. But when Trulia’s (very attractive) features don’t work correctly, I don’t care about cool.

That being said, Trulia does have some features that Zillow doesn’t. If they combined forces, and included all the features, I almost feel I’d never want for anything — not ice cream or chocolate or even repeat listens of ABBA.

For instance, for each given property, Trulia does an excellent job providing information about crime, transit options, neighborhood amenities and schools — on the same page with that property. With Zillow, this kind of neighborhood info is on a different page, reached by a hard-to-find link. That’s annoying. Plus, there’s nothing about crime, but that may be deliberate on Zillow’s part as there’s been a significant amount of discussion lately about whether the presence of crime (and demographic) stats on these portals represent discriminatory practices.

Neighborhood info on a Trulia listing

Neighborhood info on a Trulia listing

Same-page neighborhood info on a Zillow listing

Same-page neighborhood info on a Zillow listing

As with neighborhood info, Zillow directs users away from the site for transit information; there’s a link to WalkScore. This is very nice to WalkScore, and I respect the tactic. Others might feel it’s an inconvenience.

Comparing the two portals’ individual listings, it’s a question of presentation and priorities: Zillow makes economic components more prominent, while Trulia highlights lifestyle features.

But here’s where Trulia really crushes Zillow: comps. Why does Zillow think I care what a nearby house sold for in 2012, when there is public information about homes that have sold just a few weeks ago?

A screen shot of Zillow's nearby sold homes sidebar

A screen shot of Zillow’s nearby sold homes sidebar

Screen shot of Trulia's sold homes info

Screen shot of Trulia’s sold homes info

No comp-arison.

The upshot is this: If I were a buyer just starting my search, I’d use Zillow for the general search. Then, I’d check out Trulia’s page for an individual listing.

However, if you want the actual, current status of a home, both sites are always behind the 8 ball. For status and the (mostly) correct names of the agents affiliated with a given listing, keep your eye on Realtor.com, which is the unofficial consumer portal of the MLS. It also has the best photos for a property. (Unfortunately, it sucks for pretty much everything else.)

The most reliable, up-to-date information will always come from a broker, though. As one person I asked about Zillow and Trulia remarked, the portals are fine for “dicking around,” but when he and his wife wanted to get serious, it was their realtor who had many more listings and the best info. In which case, no big merger will make any difference at all.

Zillow looks to acquire rival listings site Trulia for $2B [The Real Deal]