I’m talking to you.
The person who thinks you will start an Australian real estate portal that will shoot right past domain, dethrone realestate.com.au and become the new number one.
Or, maybe you’re an agent who for some reason (perhaps because you have to send them a check every month?) doesn’t like realestate.com.au and wishes the industry would start a portal as a realestate.com.au killer.
I have a message for you: you’re dreaming.
I tell you this because of a very interesting discussion that developed in the comments of Ryan’s excellent post on FarmBuy.com.au. I thought I’d pull out the topic and expand on it.
Face it. realestate.com.au is the dominant market leader in online real estate listings in Australia. It would be very hard to beat them at their own game. What’s more, you cannot expect to copy realestate.com.au and win without their help, in the form of massive, ongoing self-destructive behaviour. They are not likely to give you that help.
All those hopeful entrepreneurs trying to create a new website to knock realestate.com.au out of its top spot and take it for themselves are on a fool’s quest. That goes for everyone from domain.com.au and on down. Domain can aspire to a profitable second place. Smaller, later comers can aspire to make a living, maybe, but certainly not to kill the giant.
The plain truth is realestate.com.au is the leader and will be the leader in online real estate listings in Australia as long as there are online real estate listings in Australia. There have been instances in business history when a player with a dominance similar to realestate.com.au’s was displaced by a competitor, but not many.
I say this as someone who has worked at realestate.com.au and with other real estate related web businesses on three continents, and as an entrepreneur.But, if you think I am missing something here, please enlighten me in the comments.
How to Make Money
That’s not to say no one else can make money in real estate portals in Australia. It just means the best opportunities for other players are to play the exact opposite card as realestate.com.au.
Instead of leadership, go for a niche and establish a strong brand as the first and best in that niche. Here are some niches that are already in play, with varying degrees of success:
- Farms: FarmBuy
- Rentals: Rent.com.au
- Regional: AllHomes
- Premium property: Million Plus
- Free listings: The Home Page
- Chinese buyers: Juwai.com (a client of mine)
If you can be content with a niche, you could possibly be profitable, or at least one day sell out at a profit. It will be hard, because the Australian market is so small, but it seems possible. A niche could also be an add-on to another real estate-related business, giving that other business strategic advantages — like domain.com.au does for Fairfax’s newspapers.
If a niche is not enough for you, and you want to beat realestate.com.au, there is only one credible strategy. You must dominate a new niche. This new niche by definition cannot be dominated by realestate.com.au and must be able to grow big enough to one day eclipse realestate.com.au. The flaw in this strategy is that you have to be riding a wave of history for it to work for you. Those waves don’t come along often.
For an example, look at realestate.com.au’s own history. The major media businesses had print real estate classifieds locked up prior to the realestate.com.au’s rise. They were unassailable. Classifieds were so reliable and profitable that analysts called them “rivers of gold”.
Then, three friends in Melbourne registered the domain name realestate.com.au and began persuading skeptical real estate agents to put their listings online. They chose a real estate classifieds niche the big players had overlooked: online. And they made themselves the leader in that niche.
(It is true that News International has a stake in realestate.com.au today, but that only goes back to 1992, when Simon Baker in his wisdom convinced News to buy it. realestate.com.au was a pure, independent startup in the classic mold. I reckon if you did the numbers, you would find realestate.com.au has been a much more profitable investment for News Corp than myspace.)
Over time, little realestate.com.au grew and grew by riding the growth of the internet. realestate.com.au won online and rode the internet’s historic growth into the very backbone of our economy and culture. The big media companies still dominate print classifieds, but print is sliding into irrelevance.
The lesson to draw from this history is simple. real estate portals should not take on the established leader head-on. Find a new niche and become the leader in that niche. You can make a living, and you may even get lucky enough to ride a historic trend into great riches.