The creator of an international book-sharing Web site is writing another chapter in Internet innovation with the launch of a property search site.
Propsmart.com, which quietly launched in December, pools real estate listings data from brokerage, for-sale-by-owner and other Web sites, and allows users to search, sort and map the property listings.
Ron Hornbaker, Propsmart.com co-founder, president and chief technical officer, said company founders hope to provide a comprehensive set of real estate listings, drive Web traffic to other real estate sites and create an online community for Propsmart users. As of Jan. 4, the site had an inventory of about 977,000 listings.
While controversy swirls around Internet-based property listings – the Justice Department last year launched a lawsuit claiming that the National Association of Realtors’ policies for online property listings are overly restrictive – several real estate brokerage and technology companies have worked to amass collections of property listings from numerous sources to display at their Web sites.
Some brokerages, meanwhile, have been reluctant to freely share their property listings information with competitors over the Internet, fearing they will lose market share to Internet-savvy companies that display these listings.
Data ownership and control issues are at the core of this willingness or hesitance in sharing property listings online, as property listings are the lifeblood of brokerage companies.
Hornbaker, a software specialist who created the popular BookCrossing.com site, teamed with commercial real estate developer Bruce Pederson and Heather Mehra-Pederson to found Propsmart.
It doesn’t make sense for consumers to have to search at several different Web sites to find property listings in their area, Hornbaker said. “I saw an opportunity to make a better consumer experience for someone shopping for a home. I’ve never been satisfied with the fragmentation of the marketplace.
“The real estate industry has been one of the last ones not yet flattened in a major way by the Internet. That’s definitely going to change.”
Google’s release of powerful mapping tools last year gave a boost to the Propsmart concept. “The thing that really jump-started the project was the advent of very usable mapping technology. That’s when we got really serious about it and started hiring. We had been following the industry for nearly a year before that,” Hornbaker said.
Site users can search for properties by city, street, ZIP code, multiple listing service number or a number assigned by the site, which is called a Propsmart listing service number. Users can view and sort a text-based list of properties that meet their search criteria while conducting map-based searches for properties on the same screen. Homes with photos are represented on the map as orange house-shaped icons, while homes without photos are represented with gray icons.
Unlike many home-search sites that are based on the Google Maps platform, Propsmart’s mapping tool features a “marquee zoom” that allows a user to draw a rectangle on the map and zoom in on that selected area.
Most of the features at the site are accessible without registering, though registration is free to users who provide a screen name and password.
Propsmart has thousands of property listings for each of the top 25 metro areas in the nation, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dalls-Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. The site also includes listings from every state. The highest volume of listings are in Texas, California and Florida.
In addition to for-sale homes, the site also features searches specific to land for sale, commercial properties for sale, and apartments for rent.
Propsmart founders are working to establish relationships with brokers and MLSs that want to directly supply Propsmart.com with property listings information. “We encourage the progressive-minded ones to contact us soon, so we can start driving traffic toward them.” Propsmart is not a competitor to brokers, Hornbaker said. “We’re not a broker and we don’t intend to be.”
The listings data at the site is now pulled from hundreds of regional brokerage sites and for-sale-by owner sites across the country by automated Web-scanning computer programs called “robots” or “spiders.” While home-search site Realtor.com and many brokerage sites do not include for-sale-by-owner listings, Hornbaker said Propsmart founders believe it is best to provide as many listings as possible for site users to peruse.
“As industry outsiders and nonpolitical and non-agenda types, we didn’t see any reason to discriminate against FSBOs so we include those because we think it’s the right thing to do for consumers,” he said.
Hornbaker said he hopes to leverage the established community at the BookCrossing.com site – which now numbers about 430,000 – to visit Propsmart.com and promote the site by word of mouth. “We would much rather grow this thing organically,” he said.
While there may be opportunity for revenue down the road, the focus now is on building traffic and community at the Propsmart site. “If we have that then there will be an endless menu of options, from advertising to listing enhancements to lead generation,” he said.
Propsmart creators are building a tool that will allow real estate agents to display Propsmart’s Google-based mapping system on their Web sites to display their own for-sale listings, and Hornbaker said that other features are in the works that will enhance the community aspect of the Propsmart site. For example, the site will allow users to refine property locations on maps when the icons representing houses do not synch with the actual property location.
“Consumers can help us edit and clean up this data. We can learn from the community, because I believe that nobody knows the neighborhood like a neighbor,” he said.
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