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Why Web 2.0 Still Hasn’t Mastered the Real Estate Mantra: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

So Goggle thinks it’s going to win the real estate search game.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no more meaningless a result in an online property search than a red pin designating the location of a property on a map.  Take the map above in the example – a snapshot of the the greater New York City area with little red dots designating search results.  New York’s a big city with alot of little neighborhoods.  Help me understand how this solution is any better than any of the others? How has Google upped the ante in providing a better solution?

They haven’t.

What I find interesting about the online search game is how many players fail to understand what makes a particular property unique – desirable – a one of a kind.  How does a little red dot convey the weighty significance of LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION?  I just read Joe Burslem’s post over at FOREM, regarding how Google is now getting serious about real estate.

Should Zillow and Trulia be worried?  Not if they view search as a value added activity.  SEO juice isn’t necessarily the fuel that runs an effective or valuable search.  The content around the search is key.  What makes a location important?  When consumers seek a home – not a house – what evokes the emotional response?  A view?  The possibility of walking to a farmer’s market on Sunday, while passing a Starbucks?

A street view is a “window” into a location, but it doesn’t define it’s personality.  Location has an identity.  Zillow has already done the homework to identify the boundaries to neighborhoods.  Perhaps a valuable next step may be to better identify a neighborhood’s identity – its personality – or maybe link the characteristics of a location to the attributes of a property.

If a search result can personify a property’s location, consistent with how a consumer lives, the red pin comes alive.  Search is meaningful.

Google – you’ve got your work cut out for you.

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    21 Comments so far

    1. Karen Brewer July 6th, 2009 6:27 pm

      Why not pair up Google Earth with the real estate search? Walk down the block,walk around the house….see whats across the street…. well you get it…..

    2. David Losh July 7th, 2009 12:08 am

      You have illustrated another facet of the web 2.0 myth. In my neighborhood I can go four blocks in any direction and be out of location, location, location.

      We saw the demise of Zillow this year with the rapidly declining home prices and lack of sales data. redfin will never recover from the fact that so many people are underwater on mortgages that the small equity market is disappearing.

      People need real help in today’s market place. People need an experienced agent to help them with what they see on line, for as long as companies continue to provide that service.

      In talking with several people who have invested time and money into internet presence the same question comes up of how to get a return on the investment. The search aspect is one thing that has been questionable in projects I’ve been watching this past year.

      It seems blogging for lead generation is the new way for people to come in and do actual business.

    3. [...] Bloodhound [...]

    4. Joe Stampone July 7th, 2009 6:43 am

      Thomas, thanks for this refreshing post, I’ve been reading so many articles talking about how this is a “game changer.”

      It may not put Trulia and Zillow out of business, but google maps certainly has features which other real estate search engines do not. For example, google’s staelite image and google’s streetview, as well as google transit. Couple these features with the fact that google maps is always improving, and Zillow and Trulia should absolutely be worried.

      NYC may not be best suited for google’s real estate search due to the denseness of the area.

      Anyway, I think google certainly has value-add tools that competing real estate search engines do not.

    5. Thomas Hall July 7th, 2009 7:53 am

      @David – I agree that agents provide the intangible aspects of search – what I call the value-add.

      @Joe – I don’t dispute that Google has features that the other search players do not. But they are features – the issue isn’t what features they have, but how they are leveraged. To David’s point, no player really will provide a transformational way of redefining search until the results touch on the intangible aspects of the results. While the data is important, ultimately a consumer is only interested in one results – the one property they intend to purchase.

    6. susan kelly July 7th, 2009 8:39 am

      In my experience; until data providers (Navteq, Tele Map, etc., etc.) create the technology needed to update changes made by our municipal authorities, no online search engine can claim any form of superiority!

      We have been waiting since April 2006 for our “new” zip code to be recognized!

    7. [...] Bloodhound Blog: Web 2.0 Still Hasn’t Mastered The Real Estate Mantra: Location, Location, Loc… [...]

    8. Spencer Rascoff July 7th, 2009 2:51 pm


      Spencer from Zillow here.
      You wrote “We saw the demise of Zillow this year with the rapidly declining home prices and lack of sales data.” Zillow has hardly seen a “demise”. On the contrary, we’re crushing it. We have record traffic (between 8.5M and 9M uniques per month) and we’re growing traffic at about 70% year-over-year. If anything, declining home prices have made people even MORE interested in home value information, and that (combined with our huge growth in listings) has given us an opportunity to capture record traffic. Nielsen and Hitwise now have us as the #2 or #3 real estate site pretty consistently, behind only (for the time being).

    9. Thomas Hall July 7th, 2009 5:00 pm

      @Spencer – thanks for weighing – fantastic to hear that traffic is up. I suspect as Google digs in, most other players will see greater interest.

    10. David Losh July 7th, 2009 5:37 pm

      You’re talking traffic and I’m referring to tangible value. The zestimate is based on Comparative Sales Data. What a property sells for today is not predictive of future value. The span is three to six months at best.

      Last year in September we saw the Real Estate market take a beating. This year’s prices are reflecting the damage done to the credit markets from last year. Next year we will see the price declines from this years unemployment.

      As we move forward the zestimate will lag by several months and may never correct itself without some one taking charge.

      Real Estate is a predictive, rational market place. The value of Real Estate is tied to the Consumer Price Index and what a property will rent for. The core value of Real Estate never changes.

      In that way of thinking Zillow hit a brick wall this past year.

    11. Spencer Rascoff July 7th, 2009 6:22 pm

      Ah, I see. Well I will concede that Zestimates become less accurate when their are fewer transactions to train our models. So in that sense, yes, Zestimates have become less accurate (though not necessarily less “valuable”) than when homes were selling more frequently.
      Still, if this is what “hitting a brick wall” feels like, then I hope we hit many more brick walls in 2009 and 2010, because things are feeling pretty dang good to us up here in Seattle.

    12. David Losh July 7th, 2009 7:02 pm

      I am in Seattle and a few blocks from Real Property Associates. Zillow was the first site that I would upload my listings to. My license is with Windermere which now has an agreement with Trulia.

      While going back to my in box to delete out the bloodhound notices of comments to the web 2.0 post I did notice a couple of e-mails from Zillow. Now I remember the campaign of this past year to engage agents.

      Today’s e-mail dated 7/7/09 from Zillow had this:

      One Easy Way to Attract Clients —
      For Free
      Answer questions on Zillow Advice

      Agents and brokers who answer questions on Zillow Advice in their neighborhood are developing customer contacts. You can, too.

      Read what Keller Williams’ Broker XXXX XXXXXX has to say about Zillow and Zillow Advice:

      “Zillow has some of the best tools for any Realtor today. They understand the importance in this digital world of “branding” and provide it to you for free.

      Instead of just providing another blog template, they provide a true agent to consumer platform in Zillow Advice where you can connect with people looking to buy and sell.

      The most rewarding part of it for me is when I can help someone by answering a question they have regarding real estate.”

      and the video: Watch Sara Bonert, Director of Broker Relations, explain the best ways to use
      Zillow Advice.

      As I said in my comment: It seems blogging for lead generation is the new way for people to come in and do actual business.

      With roughly 1600 closed sales in King County for June, compared to the amount of traffic on your site, Trulia, redfin, or zip realty, where is the incentive for a consumer?

      In my opinion consumers will want substance rather than hype. The transparency web 2.0 was promising is looking more like the same old stuff with pretty pictures.

    13. Thomas Hall July 7th, 2009 8:57 pm

      “In my opinion consumers will want substance rather than hype. The transparency web 2.0 was promising is looking more like the same old stuff with pretty pictures.”

      @David – amen.

      Your comment is exactly why I wrote this post. The purpose of search is to ideally find one property – the one property that meets the needs of the consumer.

      The advent of technology has only provided a more interesting way to view the results – but not “the” result. Providing access to 4M+ listings may be impressive, the real challenge becomes how the 4M+ get whittled down to only those properties that truly fit the bill – both in terms of property attributes and location. Right now, as you mentioned in your first comment, a truly experienced agent provides that value-added skill.

      Search is a process – one that encompasses more than just displaying a property’s attributes and a red pin on a map. Search ultimately ends when a buyer finds a home – not a compilation of houses. I submit the real game changer in online search will be the player who can provide a result that better interprets a consumer’s real needs – lifestyle attributes married to the identity of a specific location. It may not provide a 100% solution, but it will clearly differentiate players who provide merely tools from the players that provide solutions.

    14. David Losh July 7th, 2009 11:33 pm

      Normally I would let your comment stand and move on.

      The phrase “a truly experienced agent provides that value-added skill” caught my attention.

      I’m an old timer and in conversations with other old timers I correct certain catch phrases like people move every seven years, or property doubles in price ever ten years, or a property is worth what a buyer will pay for it. We toss these phrases around like they are the truth and they are really just assertions that sound good in a sales pitch.

      I’m a Real Estate agent. I have made my clients a lot of money. My job is to pay attention to zoning codes, land use, permit applications, development trends, transit lines, Employment Centers, schools, and a dozen other things concerning my market place. In addition I read and travel about and to other Real Estate market places.

      Real Estate is a big part of my life that has been, from time to time, my entire life. It’s a love, hate relationship.

      So when a client comes into my office with sheets of computer paper and starts telling me about my market place I have to remind them that Real Estate is a snap shot in time. What they looked at last week has radically changed. We need to start fresh and continue to a conclusion. We will either find a place for them or part ways. we will either sell the property or release the listing.

      People pay me to know my market place. They pay to have some one who knows how to negotiate a contract help them. People pay a Brokerage to take the liability for the transaction.

      A value added skill sounds like getting fries with your burger, a value added meal deal.

      We are Real Estate agents. People pay us to know our market place. People pay us to get them results. Entertainment is best left to cable.

    15. Thomas Hall July 8th, 2009 7:09 am

      @David – thanks again for your additional thoughts. Not all real estate agents are created equal, hence I make a distinction between agents who provide value and those that do not. People pay many licensed agents and gain nothing in the process.

    16. Andrew July 8th, 2009 11:13 am

      Great comments all around. Like you say, it does seem that a lot of these property search tools drastically take away from what is truly the goal of a home-buyer. The results are a ton of statistics, demographics, distances to highways and schools, and these are all good and useful, but they do very little in getting to the character of a place. And people want character in the homes and their communities. So, while you’re right that the websites might be able to do a better job actually finding a home for a client, I’m with the Old Timer David: These websites are fine tools, but the ability to find the best home for your client should be left to the agent, not an online tool.

    17. Spencer Rascoff July 9th, 2009 5:05 pm

      @David (and others),
      I posted our traffic stats and some other tidbits over on my Active Rain blog. It’s relevant to this conversation, so here’s the link:

    18. [...] there’s a post about Google becoming the premiere real estate search engine. That, combined with my recent experiences with a creatively negotiated commission on a listing [...]

    19. David Losh July 9th, 2009 8:42 pm

      Traffic stats are what all the Real Estate information sites are pushing.

      As time goes by and the curiosity wears off the market will stabilize and the opportunity to sell your site will have past.

      Zillow, as opposed to a redfin, still has snippets of programming code to sell, but I would act fast while your stats are still good.

      Best of Luck, I do appreciate your efforts.

    20. Neil McGuinness July 14th, 2009 12:45 am

      Exactly, that’s a great point Karen Brewer, pair up with Google Earth and you will see everything around you. That would be a really cool real estate search tool. Very hard to beat that !

    21. Paul Trippett July 14th, 2009 6:10 am

      With all the rules on what you can and can’t do with IDX data is it any wonder why everyone is so lost about the ebst way to display property results. (not saying google gets it data from idx feeds)