SAN DIEGO — Call it the real estate Web portal arms race.
With consumers now expecting to see a comprehensive set of for-sale listings, agents, brokerages, multiple listing services and third-party aggregators are seeking to differentiate themselves from their competitors by pulling onto their Web sites anything and everything from the growing universe of information that might conceivably be connected with a home purchase.
Public property records, foreclosure filings, sold listings data, comparative market analyses, Census data, demographics, psychographics, school ratings, "walkability" scores, crime stats — it seems hardly a week goes by without a major real estate portal announcing it’s adding to the arsenal of information at the beck and call of users.
"Listings are almost so ubiquitous today, they are not a differentiator," said Sara Bonert, Zillow.com’s director of brokers services. Zillow has about 4 million listings, and it’s become "pretty easy to get them," with MLSs and brokerages feeding the site directly. "The next question is: ‘OK, we’ve got listings … what else?’ "
Bonert was among a panel of experts who agreed to share their views on the subject during a "Going Beyond Listing Data" panel discussion at the National Association of Realtors’ annual convention in San Diego.
Before it joined the ranks of powerhouse listing aggregators, Zillow created a sensation with consumers by offering access to a database of public property records and property valuations, or "Zestimates" derived from those records. Suddenly, it was possible to go online and see what your neighbors paid for their house — and get a rough idea of how much your own might be worth — with the click of a mouse.
In addition to building up its listings, Zillow has continued to tweak its business model and offerings to consumers, notably with a mortgage marketplace where consumers can solicit loan quotes from thousands of participating loan originators.
NAR, seeing an opportunity to get into the business of providing public property records and valuations to its members, has purchased some of the technology and licensed data used by one of Zillow’s competitors: Cyberhomes.com.
If MLSs agree to provide active and sold listing data — which remains to be seen (see story) — NAR’s Realtor Property Resource database is expected to eventually include records on every parcel in the U.S., residential and commercial, combining public property and other records with active and sold listings data from MLSs and commercial information exchanges (CIEs).
NAR says its RPR database will be available only to Realtors — helping them to better serve their customers as the most knowledgeable source of information in their marketplace.
But Seattle-based brokerage Redfin — which offers one of the most sophisticated consumer-facing real estate Web sites on the Internet — recently began offering registered users access to MLS sold data, which the company thinks consumers can use to build their own comparative market analyses, or CMAs (see story).
As real estate Web portals make more information available to consumers, it can become increasingly challenging to deliver it to consumers in a meaningful way.
Sites that overwhelm consumers with information may lose them to other, easier-to-use sites. Those that offer a simple interface but don’t deliver the depth of information consumers have come to expect may also find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
Eric Bryn, vice president of strategic development for the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, a network of about 600 local and regional real estate firms, brought a mock-up of a hypothetical state-of-the-art real estate Web portal to the discussion.
The site’s home page was a mix of elements allowing users to see the results of "long tail" searches with links to pull them deeper into the site; a quadrant displaying a "tag cloud" of neighborhoods where other users are doing the most searches; links to videos about neighborhoods where they might be interested in buying properties; and many other options, including an invitation to follow site updates via Twitter.
Bryn’s mock-up had Jim Marks, president and chief executive officer of Virtual Results, a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based Web site design firm, yearning for something simpler. …CONTINUED