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Zillow Just Took Its Homebuying Service to the Next Level

By Steve Symington - Apr 3, 2019 at 9:00AM

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Next up: streamlined home loans.

When Zillow Group ( Z 3.94% )( ZG 4.25% ) announced its acquisition of Mortgage Lenders of America (MLOA) last year, investors weren't exactly pleased. It certainly didn't help that the news came in conjunction with an underwhelming quarterly report from the online real estate platform leader. Coupled with its rapid expansion of the controversial Zillow Offers homebuying program -- which now serves nine large metropolitan markets -- the move spurred doubt over whether Zillow could effectively foster its core Premium Agent revenue stream while simultaneously expanding into new lines of business.

But Zillow made its end goal clear. Company President Greg Schwartz stated at the time, "We acquired MLOA, which we will rebrand in 2019, so we could streamline, shorten and simplify the homebuying process for consumers who purchase homes through Zillow Offers."

A person hands a set of keys across a desk to a person signing an agreement.

Image source: Getty Images.

More than just a relaunch

On Tuesday morning, that goal came to fruition with the official rebranded launch of Mortgage Lenders of America as "Zillow Home Loans."

To be clear, Zillow Home Loans isn't just for Zillow Offers transactions; visitors to the site can apply for a loan for any house they wish -- an option Zillow says it kept open for "flexibility and convenience." Similarly, Zillow visitors can still use the company's existing mortgage marketplace to shop for other lenders and loans.

But just as Schwartz alluded to, Zillow Home Loans is streamlined for Zillow Offers, promising a "simpler and shortened real estate transaction" for consumers who choose to take advantage of the company's namesake program to buy or sell their home.

Playing the long game

Make no mistake: Zillow has big plans for Both Zillow Home Loans and Zillow Offers in the coming years.

Recall that when company co-founder Rich Barton returned as CEO in February, Zillow told investors that in just three to five years it could be purchasing as many as 5,000 homes per month, a massive increase from the less than 500 homes it bought in the fourth quarter of 2018. Furthermore, Zillow believes its Mortgages segment -- now effectively anchored by Zillow Home Loans -- could be originating more than 3,000 loans per month at that time assuming it achieves a 33% attach rate to the Homes business.

With echoes of the initial launch of Zillow Instant Offers two years ago, however, it seems likely that existing lenders on Zillow's mortgage marketplace will cry foul in the face of their new, streamlined, Zillow-affiliated competitor. But at the same time, it's hard to blame Zillow for creating a home loan option to capitalize on the full potential that comes with the platform it built. Over the long term, Zillow Home Loans should ultimately serve to reinforce the company's disruptive ways.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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