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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 28, 2009 at 9:00 PM

Zillow’s killer real estate voyeur app for the iPhone

It’s hard to get too worked up about iPhone applications now that jillions are available, but the new Zillow iPhone App debuting tonight is amazing.

It could be one of those bits of software that convinces iPhone holdouts that, maybe, it’s finally time to get the hardware.

Especially if they’re real estate voyeurs, as two-thirds of Seattle has become over the past decade.

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The free Zillow app displays a bunch of information about nearby houses, including their previous sales price, current property tax, Zillow’s estimate of their value and what the owners would take for the place, if they’ve listed a “make me move” price on Zillow.

It also displays a list of comparable properties nearby for comparison.

In other words, you can walk or drive around a neighborhood and instantly see what all the houses are worth. I could see it even becoming part of a guessing game. Instead of making words from license plates, the kids could play “name that valuation.”

When you launch the application, it displays an aerial map showing rooftops on the surrounding block or two, using the iPhone’s GPS unit and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth mapping service.

(UPDATE: There have been a few complaints about the app being slow to respond. I asked Zillow what was up, the response:

“It probably depends if the people are on the 3G network or not. In general, location-based usage of this app is ultimately subject to the iPhone’s GPS signal and availability of 3G. However, the search function (entering an address, neighborhood or city into the search box and exploring an area) should work well from anywhere with a strong 3G or wireless signal.”)

Price info is displayed on the houses, and you can tap on the rooftops to get more details. If the house is for sale and interior pictures are posted on Zillow, you can even “see” inside the house.

You can also enter an address to look for houses elsewhere – basically the sort of thing you can do with the Zillow Web site that first launched in 2006.

“It puts 99 percent of the power of Zillow in the palm of your hand – and it’s fun,” gushed Chief Operating Officer Spencer Rascoff.

The company claims its site has information on about 88 million U.S. homes, or 95 percent of all homes in the country, and drew 8.8 million unique visitors last month. Much of the data is drawn from public records, which contribute to the company’s proprietary “Zestimate” house-value estimates.

Zillow initially thought the application would become basically a separate, mobile version of the site, but Apple told the company to expect the application to also drive visitors back to Zillow, Rascoff said.

It turned out to be harder than expected to build the app, he said, and the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to offer similar software for other mobile phones, beyond the existing mobile-optimized version of Zillow.com.

Zillow retrenched last fall, cutting its staff from 150 to 110, but it’s grown back to about 135. Rascoff said uncertainty in the housing market has boosted traffic, which was up 70 percent over March 2008.

The best-funded Web startup in Seattle still has plenty of its $87 million in funding left, he said, and is still focused on building scale more than revenue.

I thought Zillow would have been acquired by one of the Internet giants by now, but Rascoff said “not this year.”

If there’s any merger and acquisition activity this year, it’s likely to be Zillow buying smaller companies.

“We’d like to be acquisitive,” he said.

Even more intriguing was Rascoff’s answer when I asked if Zillow would be raising more capital to keep building the business:

“We think the next fund-raising, capital event will be an IPO,” he said, adding, after a glance from a spokeswoman, that the company doesn’t know when that will happen.

The Zillow iPhone App is scheduled to be available today at Apple’s iTunes App Store. A few more screenshots Zillow provided:

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Comments | More in | Topics: Apple, apple, iphone

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