Google Base, a Web site where property listings and other information can be uploaded and displayed online for free, can now be searched via Google, giving rise to visions of the service as a possible “new MLS.”
It has always been possible to search Google Base itself, but consumers can now input phrases such as “Miami real estate” into Google’s main search box and the results will show listings from Google Base.
While countless Web sites now exist enabling consumers to search MLS property listings online, those sites often extract personal information from the searchers to be used as leads. Google Base, which launched in November, does not require such information.
The product works somewhat similarly to craigslist, making it possible to quickly and easily create a free posting that will appear online and can be located by searching specific terms, such as “real estate for sale.” Now, it’s possible to find Google Base listings via Google itself.
“This looks like Realtor.com Lite,” opined Vince Malta, president of the California Association of Realtors. “It’s an advertising vehicle, just as Realtor.com is; people can go there and access properties up on the MLS, just as they can on Realtor.com. But it is only some listings and some agents, not a complete list.”
Also, Malta said, though it is possible to search by ZIP code or county on Google Base, it’s not possible for people to search for neighborhoods they recognize.
“I represent Cole Valley, a San Francisco neighborhood. But Google Base doesn’t break it down to that area. You’d have to search by ZIP code and find yourself in neighborhoods you don’t want,” Malta said.
“There are a lot of Web sites that offer this kind of thing,” Malta said. “People are reacting the way they are because it’s Google, and we expect a lot from Google.”
Google Base is one of a number of new services giving consumers access to the kind of information offered in the MLS. Companies like Trulia, Redfin and Oodle feature interactive map searching and the ability to search listings from many different sources at once, among other things.
“It’s a lot like craigslist,” Malta said.
Peter Kim, an analyst with Forrester Research, agreed with Malta. “The concept is very much an online classified community, very much targeted at services like craigslist.” The analyst pointed out that Google Base is “product agnostic,” listing anything from household items to baby clothes to personal shopping.
“The thing about Google Base is they are also integrating it with other types of search. The long-term value proposition for doing a search on Google Base versus craigslist is that you are able to integrate lots of other information,” Kim said. “You can integrate maps, directions on how to get to the property, and other types of information.”
Currently, such features are not available on Google Base, but over time, it’s likely that integrating maps and the like will become possible, according to Kim.
“The MLS is a pretty well-guarded source of information, but you have to put up against it Google’s mission of making the world’s information accessible to consumers,” Kim said. “Look at Google Scholar, which has information from the world’s libraries. Who’s to say the MLS won’t get Googleized?”
When Google Base launched, the idea was to make it possible for consumers to upload information that would then be displayed online in the form of Web pages. Kim and another expert said to the best of their knowledge, Google Base does not spider the Web for listings, and hence the only listings up on Google Base are those which agents or their intermediaries have chosen to upload.
“Right now the power of the MLS is held in the hands of the real estate industry, with agents and brokers controlling access to it, but what is in the best interests of consumers? They want open access. Other industries are being changed and driven by consumers’ desire for access to that information,” Kim said.
“What’s most likely to happen is some partnership or association. Google would be smart to strike a deal with those controlling the MLS before Yahoo or MSN does,” Kim said. “If those behind the MLS want to retain their power, it might be in their interests to partner with Yahoo, MSN or Google and integrate the listings with a type of search.”
Kevin Lee, executive chairman for DidIt Search Marketing and author of a column on search, said, “If consumers start to look to Google Base for real estate industry information, it will behoove the industry to put information up there.” Lee said. “The industry controls its own destiny.”
While Google Base has useful information for consumers, a real estate technology expert said people shouldn’t confuse its services with those of an MLS.
“It’s not really an MLS,” said Mark Lesswing, director of the Center for Realtor Technology at the National Association of Realtors, of Google Base. “There are an average of 350 fields in an MLS listing. MLS is about the orderly marketplace. Google Base has information that is a subset of a full listing,” Lesswing said.
“The number of fields you see in Google Base is small compared to a real MLS listing,” Lesswing said.
“For example, a newspaper classified ad will say, ‘1986 Cadillac, two-doors,’ but it doesn’t give the vehicle identification number,” Lesswing said.
“I don’t want to disrespect Google, they are all about consumers, too,” Lesswing said. “But no way is Google Base an MLS.”
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