The big splash is in Australia, but the capability is in the U.S. product, too.

It’s all about a Google Maps feature that lets people find homes for sale, with a typical ‘price range, bedrooms, area’ search tool.

There were already "mashups" with Craigslist available for some cities — Arlington, Manassass, Reston, Springfield, etc., in Virginia — that connected a listing with a dot on Google Maps, so you can see where various homes are.

But the new capability uses  Google’s relatively quiet Base product, which allows anyone to add, well, any kind of information (e.g., a description of a house for sale) to Google’s vast storehouse of knowledge.

That information is then displayed in the appropriate Google site — a description of a car for  sale would appear in Google Product Search; a home for sale would show up on Google Maps.

"Real Estate" is one of six official Base categories (along with Events, Jobs, Products, and Vehicles). That means that there are some specific data fields available to make it easier for users to find — square footage, bedrooms, etc.

(Click the following images to enlarge ‘em.)

Enter a listing like so:

googlebase

…and it appears on Google Maps (no, this isn’t the same listing, just an example):

googlere

Note the search capabilities on the left side. Anyone can do this right now, and many companies do, including CirclePix. VLSHomes.com,  RealtyBargains.com, and others. You can find a place to live simply by going to Google Maps, entering a search term, and choosing "Real estate" from the menu:

googlere2

Right now, the product is based on users (i.e., sellers) manually adding their information. But there’s nothing stopping Google from partnering with an MLS (or more than one), with NAR, or with a private company like Craigslist.

Craiglist decimated the classified ad market by providing a user-driven alternative to the only game in town (and I mean that literally — a newspaper can expect to see a 10% reduction in classifieds when it comes to a city). Would a powerhouse name like Google working with Craiglist be serious competition for MLSs? As a Realtor, how could you not use it?

And then there’s another option for Google: Compete with Craigslist and MLSs for real estate listings. After all, it’s not an either-or proposition for sellers and their agents; you’d want to put your clients’ properties in as many (reasonable) places as possible, and what could be more reasonable than Google?

Google brings some slick capabilities to the table, notably its mapping and search. Find a home visually by looking at the neighborhoods you like, and avoid the whole ZIP Code and distance thing — really annoying when you don’t know an area, I can tell you. Or add a keyword or two that you hope to find in a listing (e.g., "fenced yard").

Some notable stats: According to Hitwise, out of more than 160 sites that users used to find real estate, Google Maps was #19 (the big guns being Realtor.com, Zillow, and Yahoo Real Estate).

That’s Google Maps. Plain ol’ Google "accounted for 24%, or nearly one in four visits to Real Estate Web sites in June," says Hitwise.

And get this: The number of people coming to real estate sites via Google Maps in June rose 68% over last year. And the number coming from regular Google search was up 18%.

In other words, Google is a playa, and becoming a bigga playa. And the new and convenient real estate search may be the tip of the iceberg. The question is, of course, which current service — Realtor.com, MLSs, Craigslist — is the Titanic.