How REA Group became the great Aussie multi-decade compounder

Chris Demasi

Montaka Global Investments

Often sighted as the densest year of technological innovation of all time, 1995 stands out for several reasons:

  • The launch of the world’s first internet-enabled marketplaces, Craigslist and eBay
  • The start of online dating with Match.com
  • The first fully digital, animated feature film: Pixar’s Toy Story
  • And of course, a humble “bookseller” was born: Amazon.com
  • Lesser-known is that 1995 was also the year the greatest internet startup in antipodean history was founded: REA Group.

This wire was written by Amit Nath, Senior Research Analyst at Montaka Global Investments

Just like the great tech tales of Silicon Valley, our Aussie protagonist (REA Group) was started in a garage (1995), IPO’d just before the dotcom bust (1999) and lost ~90% of its value shortly thereafter (2001). 

However, just before complete failure, it was dealt a dose of good fortune, with Rupert Murdoch and his global media empire, News Corporation stepping in and providing a much-needed capital injection. News Corp. took 44% of REA Group (realestate.com.au at the time) in exchange for A$2 million in cash plus A$8 million-worth of TV and print advertising, giving REA Group a total equity valuation of A$23 million. 

Fast forward twenty years to today and News Corp. owns 61% of REA Group, which has a market capitalisation of A$21 billion, or 910 times the valuation Murdoch paid in 2001. 

For comparison, a purchase of Amazon stock at its low point after the dotcom bust would have returned 510 times the initial investment today, or less than two-thirds of what REA Group has delivered (excluding dividends), which earns it a place among the greatest internet start-ups of all time.

Aside from being a multi-decade compounder for shareholders, REA Group holds one of the most privileged positions in the real-estate sector in the world. 

Real estate markets tend to be highly localised, with the comparable property radius only extending to surrounding neighbourhoods, creating fragmented, non-uniform supply dynamics, which are highly supportive for an online marketplace like REA Group which can aggregate that supply more uniformly. 

In addition to this, the Australian market is unique, in that it is impossible to function as a real estate agent (or broker) without a subscription to REA Group’s professional tools and access to its property listing portal, which as we will discuss, is entrenched with buyers and renters in the Australian market.

Through its flagship portal (realestate.com.au) REA Group has become “the destination” for real estate in the Australian market with ~65% of Australia’s adult population (12 million people) checking property listings, real estate news, and home prices on the site every month. 

Additionally, REA Group continues to increase its lead over the number two player (Domain Holdings), reaching 6 million more Australians and attracting over three times the monthly visitors of its peer, a gap which continues to widen.

REA Group is Australia’s #1 Property Portal

Source: REA Group

Adjacent to its privileged position with Australian real-estate customers, REA Group also has an indispensable relationship with real estate agents. 

To effectively operate in the Australian market, a real estate agent has very few choices outside of subscribing to REA Group’s agent administration tools to find clients, build an online profile and market their listings. 

This has translated into extremely strong and durable pricing power for REA Group. While the official strategy is to support agents and remain in their servitude forevermore, one cannot help but observe the increasingly potent value-added services it offers property buyers, sellers and renters, slowly disintermediating agents in the value chain, which is the natural progression of a genuine two-sided marketplace like the one REA Group oversees. As REA Group continues to reduce friction costs of buying, selling, and renting properties for customers, it is likely to capture a larger share of transaction economics over time.

In part II of this series will discuss some of the powerful levers REA Group has at its disposal to increase its share of Australian real-estate industry economics and the numerous other valuable real options it holds within its portfolio. 

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This wire was written by Amit Nath, Senior Research Analyst at Montaka Global Investments


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Chris Demasi
Co-founder & Portfolio Manager
Montaka Global Investments

Christopher is a co-founder and portfolio manager at Montaka Global Investments. Before establishing Montaka in 2015, Christopher has worked with LFG, the Lowy family's private investment firm, One East Partners and Goldman Sachs.

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