Earlier this month, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff told investors on a quarterly conference call that the Seattle online real estate company planned to make big investments in new tools to help real estate agents boost their productivity and sales.

“We are in the midst of a calculated, strategic expansion evolving our agent offering from a one-sized fits all advertising program to become more of a central hub for a variety of marketing and business services,” Rascoff said.

Now, fast forward to today, and it’s almost like deja vu all over again. This time, the company that’s making the pronouncements just happens to be Market Leader, the Kirkland real estate company. In today’s fourth quarter earnings announcement, Market Leader indicated that it plans to aggressively pursue the billions spent annually by real estate professionals on marketing and advertising.

Ian Morris

CEO Ian Morris told investors that the company already serves one third of the real estate agents in the U.S., marking what he called an “enviable competitive advantage.”

“I like the trends we are seeing a lot,” said Morris, adding that the company is seeing “great momentum” with real estate companies. He added that there’s no reason that Market Leader could not turn into a $100 million to $200 million business, adding that the company should get much more profitable over time since many of the sales are now coming electronically.

At one point in the call, Morris addressed a question from an analyst who asked whether he was happy about Zillow’s acquisition of Diverse Solutions and its recent push into additional agent services. Here’s what Morris had to say on that topic:

“What a lot of people have realized is that nobody typically comes into this space thinking about agents as the monetization engine…. People always look, and say they are going to go much further than that. The reality is that real estate agents spend a lot of money, and they spend it very locally, and they are not looking at metrics like CPMs and so on. They are just looking to see if they can generate leads, and close business effectively. If you can do that for them and you can help them with that, you are going to make a lot of dollars per impression. And I think that is what you are seeing.

I am not surprised to see other players coming into the space, and you are going to see us go after those dollars much more aggressively this year. I think we are going to show some progress on RealEstate.com, we think that is a growth engine. And we think we bring a lot to that party in our knowledge of real estate professionals, what they want in their products and services and our existing distribution channels that we don’t have to spend aggressively to acquire those new revenues, I think those are all assets that we bring. And, yeah, I am excited about it. And I think other people are figuring it out that this is a good market, especially as agents start spending again.”

The financial analyst then asked about difference in market value between Zillow ($880 million) and Market Leader ($84 million) to which Morris responded:

“I have to leave that to you and the folks on the other end of the call. Obviously, as CEO I am probably a little biased, but continue to think that we are very undervalued. But that’s just something that we have to prove out over time, and I think we will. We are starting to see a little of that in the stock, but I don’t think anybody is comfortable with where it is. There’s a lot of upside here.”

Interestingly, the leadership of both Zillow (Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink) and Market Leader (Morris) trace their histories to Microsoft.

Founded in 1999 as HouseValues, Market Leader is the smaller of the two companies.

Revenues at Market Leader — which acquired RealEstate.com for $8.25 million last September and plans to relaunch the service later this year  — jumped 39 percent during 2011 to $34 million. Fourth quarter revenue also grew 39 percent to $9.5 million. The company continues to lose money, showing a $4.1 million loss. That contrasts with Zillow, which showed net income of $922,000 during the fourth quarter on revenue of $19.1 million.

Here’s a look at the performance of the two stocks over the past three months.

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  • Chrisbutanyway

    interesting article, thanks.

  • Used2BonAR

    Not a Zillow fan…but at least the site doesn’t crash regularly.  ML can’t keep what they buy running.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=620289 Anil Pereira

    One of the under-the-radar real estate companies that has a thriving and growing customer base is FloorPlanOnline. Their service is used by a ton of realtors and they would be a good partner for someone like Zillow or Market Leader. (Full Disclosure: I am advisor to FPO).

  • Alan Cech

    i invite you all to check the reviews on marketleader at a neutral site like yelp. There you will find that 80% of the reviews by real estate professionals give market leader a thumbs down. Oh and if you post a bad review on their facebook page….rather than address it they just delete them.

  • Tommy Gilley

    The biggest issue with these sites is that they can’t leave well enough alone. I was a premier agent with Zillow for 3 years, and I had success for a good portion of that time. Unfortunately, every November they would jack up the price and/or ‘tweak’ the service. The net result was that by the 3rd year the total annual cost of the service was too high a ratio of the closings they contributed to my practice. The funny thing is the agent with one of my old zip codes is now paying half what I was paying. Real Estate Agents have more hands in their pocket than almost every other profession out there, and Zillow’s ‘optimizing their revenue’ is the agent’s uncertain expense against uncertain returns.
    Another aspect which never seems to be discussed is the quality of the agent being referred. Getting a high revenue agent who doesn’t do right by their clients can’t be a positive situation for these firms. I don’t know where that data would hide, but I would bet there are locales which are negatively effected by this situation.
    My .02.

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