Editor’s note: Real estate search has entered a new phase with the emergence of applications that narrow the hunt for consumers, pool from multiple sources, and enable consumers to search without having to register at a broker site to gain access. In this four-part series, we examine the latest tools and how they’re impacting where brokers market properties and how consumers find them. (See Part 1 and Part 3.)
The options for online real estate hunting are dizzying. There’s Realtor.com, which culls listings from multiple listing services around the country but shows only Realtor-represented properties. There are local broker sites, which can vary greatly in what they display. You could check local newspapers, but their inventory also varies from town to town.
Major search portals like Yahoo! and AOL show listings through partnerships with brokers or Realtor.com.
Real estate search is now entering a new phase with the emergence of new search applications, known as verticals, that narrow the hunt for consumers and drive more targeted traffic to brokers’ online listings.
A few of these vertical applications include Trulia and Propsmart in the real estate listings category and Oodle and LiveDeal for online classifieds, which include real estate for sale and rental categories.
“Vertical search is all about taking one step closer to solving a narrower problem,” said Oodle CEO Craig Donato. “By not trying to do everything, you can try to solve one specific problem in a deeper way.”
Vertical search isn’t new. Sites for job searching, shopping and finding blog entries have existed for years.
Today, there are more applications launching that are specifically geared toward home listings. The next-generation of Internet companies in this field offer community, transparency, a simpler user experience and information culled from a number of sources.
“There was a big, unmet need in a friendly, easy-to-use real estate search site,” said Ron Hornbaker, Propsmart’s president and chief technology officer. The software specialist launched Propsmart in December after being disappointed with sites, particularly Realtor.com, where users have to spend time filling out a form to gain access to limited information.
Propsmart.com gets some listings through partnerships with real estate technology providers Point2 Technologies, Number One Expert and others, and it also pools property listings summaries from brokerage, for-sale-by-owner and other Web sites. Site users can search, sort and map the inventory.
Hornbaker, who created the popular Bookcrossing.com site, says the key to success is to build a good user experience, not just a good search engine. Propsmart users can edit listings when they see information that’s not correct. “If people notice a map marker being off, it’s easy for anyone to change that,” he said.
The site also includes forums where people can start discussions.
Propsmart has made its real estate search function available on Google’s personalized home page, Hornbaker said. People can create a customized Google page and include a box to search real estate listings from Propsmart by clicking on Google’s “personalized home page” option, then choosing the real estate search function from the list of content.
“It’s that sort of openness that is meant by the term ‘Web 2.0,'” he said. “It’s an openness in the data and working with other Web sites.”
Propsmart launched on the heels of competitor Trulia.com, a vertical search engine for real estate listings in California and New York. Trulia searches multiple brokerage Web sites for property listings and displays that information at its Web site, with links back to the broker sites. Trulia also incorporates historical information such as ownership history into most property listings.
A big distinguisher between new real estate search applications and old is that consumers can sift through listings without having to fill out a form that essentially turns them into a lead for brokers and agents. Once consumers at Trulia find a home they’re interested in, they click through to the broker’s site, but until then they can shop anonymously.
Vertical search applications have also evolved for online classifieds in the last year. LiveDeal has seen its real estate category grow since launching in 2004 and the company expects to have nearly half a million real estate listings in the next six months, according to founder and CEO Rajesh Navar.
“We do see agents coming in and adding inventory for advertising homes for sale,” said Navar, a former engineer and manager for eBay and who founded and built eBay’s search team.
LiveDeal connects local buyers and sellers much like traditional classifieds, and it provides searchable categories in cities nationwide.
Real estate listings are free for consumers and agents, he said, and the company soon will offer special packages for agents that will enable them to sign up for enhanced stores or pay-for-performance. Also, within the next year, LiveDeal will enable real estate agents to upload their own video tours, maps and other features.
The site also has a free rental listings category, which Navar said he expects to pick up this year.
“This will be the year for real estate for us,” he said.
Classifieds search engine Oodle also is expanding its real estate category by working with brokerages such as Weichert Realtors and ZipRealty, Donato said. “We’re also going to sites that have specific functionality like FSBO (for sale by owner) sites and foreclosure sites.”
Donato says that as vertical search gets more sophisticated, people will stop thinking of it as a search engine and instead view it as an application, which will spark a lot of new innovation as people start thinking about what other tools consumer need when looking for a home.
A recent JupiterResearch paper predicts that vertical search sites will be a hot spot for online advertisers in the next five years.
A report, “Search Engine Selection Strategies,” revealed that one-third of sophisticated marketers found that adding new search engines to their advertising campaigns increased their click rates.
“Increasing competition and rising keyword prices should motivate search marketers to look for newer, viable opportunities to diversify their incoming traffic,” Sapna Satagopan, research associate at JupiterResearch, said in a statement.
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