Zillow selling off homes as it shutters house-flipping business

About a month after announcing it would shutter its failed home-flipping business, Zillow says it has sold or is in the process of selling about half the homes it planned to offload.

The Seattle-based real estate company announced early last month it planned to close down Zillow Offers, its attempt at an algorithm-driven version of home-flipping known as iBuying.

After months of upbeat comments about the business, Zillow executives said they had faced longer than expected timelines to fix up and resell homes and the company’s algorithm had failed to accurately predict prices. Zillow planned to lay off 25{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} of its staff as a result.

Share prices sank in the days after the announcement, and the company now faces two shareholder lawsuits in federal court.

On Thursday, following an announcement that Zillow planned a stock buyback, shares jumped about 8{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} in late trading, Bloomberg reported. The share price remains down about 60{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} from the start of the year. Zillow plans to buy back up to $750 million in stock, about 5.5{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} of its current market cap.

Because buybacks leave fewer shares on the market, they can drive up stock prices. That also benefits company executives whose pay is tied to stock price.

Zillow finished the third quarter with 9,790 homes in inventory and 8,172 under contract. The company said Thursday it “has sold, is under contract to sell or has reached agreement on disposition terms for more than 50{3e92bdb61ecc35f2999ee2a63f1e687c788772421b16b0136989bbb6b4e89b73} of the homes it expected to resell during the entire wind-down process.”

Zillow Offers did not buy and sell homes in Seattle, but was active in Portland and other cities. Zillow last month sold 2,000 homes in 20 markets to an investment firm that planned to rent the homes out, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the third quarter, Zillow wrote down about $304 million worth of homes it expected to sell at a loss and projected additional losses of $240 million to $265 million in the fourth quarter. As of Sept. 30, the company had $2.9 billion in debt related to Zillow Offers.

At the time, the company predicted its Homes segment, which includes Zillow Offers, would bring in between $1.7 billion and $2.1 billion in revenue during the final three months of the year. Zillow has now revised that upward to a range of $2.3 billion to $2.9 billion.

Employee layoffs began soon after the announcement last month, including at least 47 people so far in Washington state. Zillow said Thursday it expects the “net impact” of shutting down Zillow Offers “to be at least cash-flow neutral.”

Maria Flores

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