Zillow is launching a few important community features on Wednesday. The sexy new addition is Home Q&A: Zillow will now let users ask questions about any property on the map. Anyone can answer them. Presumably, real estate agents will be the ones doing most of the answering, both to make homes sell more quickly and to appear knowledgeable to buyers who are interested in other properties they are representing. Homeowners, or anyone else for that matter, also can answer questions the community poses. All answers can be rated for helpfulness.
Home Q&A questions will appear on the Zillow front page, but at launch they won't be geographically targeted: you'll see a selection of all the questions on the system, not the ones relevant to your location. Zillow said it is moving toward launching a personalized home page, though.
The less sexy, but more important feature for the real estate industry, is Zillow's new user profile pages. Again, this will likely be populated by agents, since it's where all of a user's answers, questions, and helpfulness ratings will be aggregated. A buyer could get a pretty good feel for the knowledge and attitude of an agent on one of these user pages. The analysis on an agent won't be as deep as it would be with a rating tool like My-Currency (review), but since the community on Zillow is much larger and more engaged than on any upstart real estate site, it's still likely to be very useful. Zillow spokespersons estimate that of the site's four million visitors a month, 150,000 are agents. I don't think it will be too long before most of them set up user pages on Zillow, creating what is essentially a new directory of real estate agents -- but with user ratings attached to them.
There's also a fantastic new self-serve advertising system. I say fantastic because I'm tired of seeing Google's ads everywhere -- Google's service, while effective, isn't specialized for particular industries. Zillow's ad system will allow ZIP code-targeted advertising for agents, homes for sale, or local services companies, and the rates are reasonable: a penny a view, for a little ad with a graphic in it. (Zillow will still use Google ads for "fill-in," I was told.)
Finally, any user on Zillow can now flag a home as "for sale." That's something buyers' agents are likely to do, and it's a sneaky way to get around the fact that Zillow can't use the real estate industry's incumbent listing service, the MLS. After a home is flagged, the owner or agent can "take over" the listing, or, presumably, reverse it if the home is not in fact for sale.
Zillow is one of best examples of what Web 2.0 can be: It's got useful and unique data, it's fun and addictive to use, and with these changes it becomes even more of a community site. Plus, unlike most other Web 2.0 experiments, Zillow is becoming a central player in a market where there's real money changing hands.
More Zillow-supplied screenshots after the jump.