Zillow makes a big bet on flipping homes. New CEO could ‘make this gamble work’: RBC’s Mahaney

Real Estate

If anyone can pull off Zillow‘s plan to start buying and selling homes, returning CEO Rich Barton is the one to get the job done, said RBC Capital Markets’ internet analyst Mark Mahaney.

Mahaney told CNBC on Friday that Barton, who co-founded the online real estate marketplace in 2005 and led it until 2010, has a “great track record” with Expedia. Co-founder Spencer Rascoff stepped down as Zillow chief Thursday after nearly a decade in the chair.

“This guy’s got a huge track record, and when the news came out that he was coming back to be the CEO that’s what really took the stock up,” he said on “Squawk Alley.”

Barton, a serial entrepreneur, started Expedia under Microsoft in 1994, spun it into its own public company in 1999 and led it until 2003. He was also behind the launch of employment website Glassdoor.

Shares of Zillow have taken several dives since the company first said it was exploring a house-flipping program. The stock sank 9 percent after Zillow announced the endeavor in May, 16 percent in a single day in August, and 8 percent in extended trading off a mixed fourth-quarter earnings report Thursday.

The price subsequently recovered and is up about 7 percent midday Friday.

Zillow has been piloting the flipping business in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Former CEO Rascoff has likened the model to Netflix’s original programming and Amazon’s web services. By leveraging its own data, Zillow would give home sellers access to its online platform to compare offers from potential buyers, including Zillow. If it wins the property, the company plans to complete renovations in 90 days and relist it with one of its premier real estate agents.

Rascoff retains his seat on Zillow’s board.

Investors may be wary of the buying and selling model because it can take months to close on a deal, resulting in delayed revenue. Zillow hopes its process will provide a service to house sellers and cut down the time and difficulty of selling their home.

The company expects the segment to bring in $20 billion in revenue within five years, according to its earnings forecast.

“If anybody can make this gamble work, it’s Rich Barton,” Mahaney said.

Still, he said he’s a bit “skeptical.” He said the firm is not a buyer of the stock at the moment.

“It’s just, it is a big swing, it’s a big risk,” Mahaney said. “I want to see him bring his magic back to the company before we get constructive on the shares.”

The stock is up more than 36 percent this year, but it’s down more than 10 percent over the past year and about 35 percent off its June high.

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