David Eraker began searching for Seattle homes online in 2002 after he sold his condo. He tried comparing houses by price, plot outlines and other public information, but quickly grew frustrated with the tedious process of using four or five Web browsers and creating Excel charts.
So began Eraker’s determination to help solve some of what he calls “consumer pain points,” a journey that has resulted in Redfin.com. The site, unveiled last month, enables viewers to search the MLS for houses in the Seattle region by pinpointing a specific area on an aerial map of the Seattle metro area. Once they call up a listing, viewers can find out the last sales prices of the house, its yearly estimated taxes, and they can find a real estate agent who focuses on that area.
“We wanted to build a tool that we ourselves would really want to use in buying or selling a house or finding a real estate agent,” said Michael Dougherty, Redfin’s co-founder and chief operating officer.
Aerial imagery from planes and satellites has become more commonplace in recent years, and the real estate industry has increasingly incorporated such pictures into the home-buying process.
ENeighborhoods, for instance, recently partnered with GlobeXplorer to provide aerial and satellite photos of any property in America. Eneighborhoods has incorporated aerial photos into its Mapping, CMA (Comparative Market Analysis), BuyerTour and HomeBook modules to help real estate professionals maximize the impact of presentations and help educate prospective buyers about their properties. Users can enter any address in the country and instantly see an aerial photo of their desired location, which can be adjusted with zoom and pan features. Users also can use the “combo” feature, which overlays street names and points of interest on the aerial images.
GlobeXplorer has inked many deals over the past few years to provide various real estate companies with high-resolution aerial imagery. GlobeXplorer, a geographic data integration and publishing company, offers customers the ability to retrieve imagery as needed and integrate images into Web applications, mapping and geographic information systems or internal business processes. The company’s image library is distributed over the Internet using a propriety platform that searches, retrieves, compacts and delivers images within seconds.
In addition, sites such as Microsoft’s TerraServer allow viewers to enter any address and have an aerial view of it pop up instantly.
Redfin’s founders, however, see their product as filling a niche that hasn’t yet been explored much by the real estate industry. While realty professionals have used aerial imagery in presentations and marketing information, the use of these images generally hasn’t gone far beyond that, they said.
“The process of making that interactive is certainly substantially different than tying a photo to a link,” said Eraker, the company’s founder and president.
Visitors to Redfin.com instantly see an aerial image of the Seattle metro area that shows major highways, along with directions on how to use the site. As viewers zoom in on the map, community names and outlines appear as do street names, parks and schools. Prospective home buyers can zoom into areas they’re interested in and click on a “Show Properties” button to view houses for sale. They also can narrow the search by property price and house size.
Once the map displays for-sale properties, viewers click on the highlighted house to get all the relevant MLS information, including price, year built, square footage and photos. The site also offers a tab with information gathered from the county that includes the price of the last sale and the property’s taxes for 2005.
Almost all the information, except for the MLS listings, comes from publicly available information sources such as the tax assessor’s office. The aerial images are from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The site and all searches are available for free, but the company plans to make money by referring prospective home buyers and sellers to real estate agents. Agents who want to be listed on the company’s network can either pay per referral, or they can pay a monthly fee to be listed on the network. A tab at the top of the Web site lets viewers search for an agent by a particular geographic area.
Eraker said the site is intended to be very agent-friendly and not replace their role in the home buying and selling process. One section of the Web site informs consumers that “there’s only so much you can do online.” Talking with an agent is the next step, the company advises.
Some agents not on the network have directed their clients to the site as a way to get a birds-eye view of houses that interest them, Dougherty said. Site traffic has been “phenomenal” so far, Dougherty said, but he declined to give specific numbers.
Redfin’s coverage currently is available only in the Seattle area, but the company intends to expand its services to other states and regions.
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