Google enters the real estate biz

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.

About Andrew Kantor

Andrew is VAR's editor and information manager, and -- lessee now -- a former reporter for the Roanoke Times, former technology columnist for USA Today, and a former magazine editor for a bunch of places. He hails from New York with stops in Connecticut, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Roanoke.
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4 Responses to Google enters the real estate biz

  1. Jim Rake says:

    Andrew,
    No doubt, you’re probably aware of Sun-tzu’s quote, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
    When Google enters the arena, that 800 pound (an that’s putting it mildly) Gorilla is hard to ignore.
    If I were their competitors, I’d try to be the first in line to attempt to form a partnership.
    Of course, don’t expect their response to be any different than that of the Mexican bandit leader in the old classic, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, when asked by Bogart, “If you’re the police where are your badges”?
    His reply, ‘Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges!

  2. Pingback: FBS Blog » Blog Archive » What is (and isn’t) new with Google Real Estate?

  3. You are right Google will always be a player in any sector that it touches.

    And as more information is being fed to be big G, there is no doubt that much of the extra services that most real estate sites offer are more than likely going to be offered in one way or another by Google´s services.

    Base is a good example on how Google is getting information to later serve on which ever channel they see fit. You can also see it on google earth mashing with it´s photo service Panoramio.

    This is good in the sense that the more choices a realtor has to promote their properties, the harder all the companies will try to offer a better choice to come out on top.

    My two cents.

  4. I don’t get why people in the industry are so worked up about this. Google’s entire busines model is to find ways to make existing information on the ‘net more useful, and in the process drive up the number of eyeballs that see the ads that are the foundation of their revenue. Nothing they’ve ever done has strayed from that model, so it’s extremely unlikely that they are going to try to start competing with MLSes; why get involved in that, when they can have other people do the work, and they just aggregate and serve up the data and get the eyeballs that they want?

    It’s no different than the IDX feeds that we all use to serve up each others’ listings on each others websites, many of which already integrate Google Maps views of the listings; this is just effectively making the connection bi-directional, so that searches on Google Maps more easily link to the relevant properties in addition to searches on the property sites showing those properties on Google Maps.

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