• Noah

How To Build a Real Estate Website Like Zillow

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

When you want to buy or rent a house, would you choose to hire a real estate agent or browse a real estate website? Most of us prefer to search for a property via real estate websites to save time and get access to a vast amount of options. During your search, you may visit Zillow, the leading real estate and rental site in the U.S. This website gathers real estate agents, buyers, and sellers, helping them buy and sell real estate property.

How did Zillow manage to become so popular? What steps should you take to develop a real estate website like Zillow? How much will a real estate two-sided marketplace cost?

In this article, we will answer all these questions and give handy tips on how to build a real estate website without spending a fortune.

The story behind Zillow's success

The Zillow story began in 2004 when two former top Microsoft managers, Lloyd Frink and Rich Barton, joined forces to launch a website that could estimate a home's value and rental rates for homes. The following year they launched a website with real estate data from 300 cities. In the first three days, a million users visited the site to "Zestimate" the value of their homes.

Since its launch, Zillow has become something more than a property listing website since its monetization strategy includes running ads and promoting brokers and agents. As Spencer Rascoff, the CEO of Zillow Group says, "We are a media company. We sell advertising. Having a large audience is critical."

How does Zillow make money

To earn money, Zillow provides users with the following promotion services:

Premier Services for real estate agents who pay the website for running ads and receiving leads. Agents are charged:

Cost per ad impression, i.e., the cost per 1000 ads viewsCost per lead that varies from $20-$60.

Selling Promotions aimed at real estate companies. The website charges property management companies cost per lead, cost per click, and cost per lease for running ads within the Zillow Rental Network, which includes AOL Real Estate, Trulia, MyNewPlace, Yahoo! Inc., Hotpads, and MSN Real Estate websites.

The advertisement sales model includes selling advertising space to lenders, mortgage professionals, and other businesses. The platform charges a cost per lead fee.

Subscription model for mortgage services, which means the website connects custom quote services and lead management platform.

In a nutshell, Zillow has become the ultimate real estate platform across the U.S. that connects home builders, rental professionals, buyers, investors, and agents. The website includes unique features and tools that help buyers to find the perfect home,  real estate agents to promote their business.

Now, let's dive into the real estate website development process.

How to make a real estate website like Zillow: essential features

As we can see, Zillow is the industry leader that others are trying to keep up to. However, it is almost impossible to duplicate  Zillow's feature list without going bankrupt. According to an Aberdeen report, in 2018 alone, Zillow spent $20.8 million on technology. In view of this, we offer you to take you on your own path in the development of your real estate website. Below, we have gathered essential features for a real estate listing website MVP that will save time and stay within budget.

Property listings and databases

Databases with properties are an essential feature for a real estate marketplace. If your real estate agency already has its database of properties located in your city, region, or country, the web development team will integrate it into the website's back-end. But, if you have no databases, what should you do? Let's find out.

If you want to develop a real estate marketplace in the U.S., you can follow the Zillow example and integrate databases from:

National Association of Realtors (NAR)Multiple Listing Service (MLS)

These sources of real estate databases list properties across the U.S., however, this is the most complicated option. You will receive access to MLS and NAR only if you get a real estate license in each U.S. state, which requires both time and money. Are there other ways to integrate property databases to a Zillow type website? Let's see.

Zillow API

You can integrate Zillow API to your website and get access to homes posted for sale. According to Zillow data and API Terms of use, the company allows integrating its API to websites, but not to mobile apps. They state this in their Terms of Use: "You may not implement the Zillow API or distribute the Zillow Data on a mobile app such that the Zillow API is the primary functionality on the mobile app and/or the Zillow Data makes up the majority of the content on the mobile app."

Post by owners

Since you are going to develop a two-sided marketplace, you can allow landlords to place the information about their real estate for sale.

Listing syndication platforms

You can enter the data-sharing agreement with one of the national real estate companies and list their property directly to your marketplace. To achieve that, you may choose among the following real estate platforms:

365 Connect, a technology provider for the housing sectorRealBird social media and mobile listing marketing platformJBGooDdwin Realtors a marketplace with broker listed property

Filtering Algorithms

To allow users to find the property they are looking for more conveniently, you need to integrate a filtering algorithm to your marketplace. We suggest you consider the following search parameters:

Location Price

[Zillow “Price” filter]


[Zillow “Home type” filter]

AreaNumber of bedrooms

[Other Zillow filters]

Mapping and geolocation

Your marketplace users will want to learn about the area they are moving to beforehand. To achieve this, you can integrate Zillow API that contains neighborhood boundaries, and a bunch of other APIs with the neighborhood and geographical information, including:

GeoNames, a dataset that includes over 10 million geographical namesGoogle Places API that provides info about local businesses, such as restaurants, sports clubs, and supermarketsMapBox to build your custom map with property listing, market data, videos, and photos. This tool also allows users to draw a polygon on the map for better search results.

View property

A detailed representation of property is one of the essential functions for real estate websites like Zillow. To show website users the excellent visualization of real estate objects, you can use:


Cloud infrastructure

Since your real estate marketplace will include a considerable amount of high-quality photos, videos, and even 360° panoramic images, to keep all this data you need powerful hosting. Otherwise, you will face issues with image system scalability, performance, and disaster recovery challenges.

In this case, the best option is to follow Zillow's example and integrate a cloud-based infrastructure from the very beginning. As for Zillow, the company uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store over 100TB of data, over 1 billion objects, and 300 million images. "Maintaining an object count in the billions doesn't work so well on a traditional file system. We would have to split those objects across many file systems, which would be a management nightmare. The scalability of Amazon S3 seemed like the right technology for us," says Nick Michal, Unix systems engineering manager for Zillow Group.

Since you are now aware of the essential features of a real estate website, let's find out how much it will cost.

How much does a real estate website like Zillow cost

The development of a real estate website is a complex project, not only because of API's integrations, but also because it includes different user roles, such as buyers, sellers, and admin. Therefore, the development team should build your real estate website for three types of users. To save you time and money, we recommend launching such projects as MVP, a website with only main features. In this way, you can discover whether or not your business idea has earning potential. Total hours for the front end and back end will be about 1000 - 1500 hours and roughly $320k. However, today, the cost will roughly be about $50k-$100k depending on your features and functionality.

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