Google Maps serving up European listings

U.K. listings aggregators, others contribute listings data

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Google is accepting property listings from listing aggregators and other sources, expanding integration of Google’s property "place pages" for listings into Google Maps across Europe.

The expansion of Google Maps’ real estate search capabilities already available in the U.S., Canada and Australia into Europe has caused a stir in the British press.

An article in The Independent of London this week predicted that Google, "the biggest name on the Internet," will soon be "cutting out the middleman and challenging the property professionals at their own game."

The article claims that Google "revolutionized" the way homes are bought and sold in Australia when it integrated place pages into Google Maps in Australia last year.

Google captured the attention of real estate professionals in the U.S. when it integrated place pages with Google Maps in the U.S. last fall (see story), but is unlikely to "disintermediate Realtors" from the homebuying process, said consultant Brian Boero of 1000Watt Consulting.

"The reaction to it overseas is more intense, because unlike the U.S, there is no MLS (in Europe), and agents pay to have their listings displayed on portal sites," Boero said. In the U.S., "Trulia and Zillow sort of gave the store away out of the gate, by saying we’ll display your listings for free, and you can pay to upgrade to get these other products."

There’s no indication Google will provide any transactional services or even get into the lead generation business, and fears that the search engine will turn Europe’s real estate industry upside down are "maybe a little over the top," Boero said.

Google Maps now displays thousands of for-sale and rental listings in Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and a smattering of listings in other European countries including France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Sources include third-party listing aggregators such as homes24.com, a site operated by newspaper and magazine publisher Archant, and individual real estate brokers.

Rightmove, a company that claims to be the United Kingdom’s leading property portal with membership of 90 percent of "estate agents," has also reportedly entered into an agreement to integrate Google Maps into its property detail pages, including overseas listings.

It was unclear if Rightmove was also feeding listings to Google — only about 100 U.K. listings that turned up in a Google Maps search Friday linked back to the aggregator. Because of the time difference, Inman News was unable to contact Rightmove Friday afternoon.

According to international property portal Globaledge, a Rightmove spokesman said in a statement that the company has "two very different business models: Google is a search engine, and users will click through on each property to the agent’s own Web site. On Rightmove, users can see everything they want, all in the same place — not just the location, but the complete property details." …CONTINUED

A Dow Jones Newswires story published today by The Wall Street Journal Online characterized Rightmove’s announcement that it had partnered with Google as "quashing fears late last year that the U.S. giant was set to launch a rival home-hunting service."

However, those fears seem to have been based on capabilities that Google has already rolled out in the U.K. and Europe: the integration of listings submitted by agents, brokers, homeowners and property managers into Google Maps and "place pages" that present all the information Google has about a listing including property details and photos.

Google, as is the company’s custom, declined to detail its plans or comment on the conflicting reports.

Although some have described Google’s integration of place pages into Google Maps as a "real estate portal," it’s technically an extension of Google Maps’ search capabilities, rather than a branded Web site with a dedicated URL.

Clicking on a listing returned in a Google Maps real estate search generates a single "place page" for the listing, where consumers can see details and click through to the original source of information — often third-party listing syndicators like Rightmove and other companies in the U.K., or companies like Postlets, Point2 and Listhub.net in the U.S.

The Google Maps "place page" for a home on the market for $2.5 million in Ann Arbor, Mich., for instance, provides links to listings aggregator sites point2.com, ewebengine.com and listingsrocket.com. Consumers are several clicks removed from the original source of the listings — a real estate brokerage or multiple listing service.

Real estate portals like Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com often get their data directly from MLSs, real estate brokerages and agents, and provide additional information such as property tax records, an analsyis of local market conditions, neighborhood demographics and local schools.

So far, the listings search capabilities offered by Google don’t compare to U.S. real estate portals in terms of depth, quality or comprehensiveness, Boero said.

"I personally don’t think that (Google) is going to have a major impact on real estate in the U.S. — it’s simply one more distribution point for listings," Boero said. "Listings are ubiquitous. (Google Base) is great if you’re interested in free distribution of listings, probably not so great if you are Trulia or Zillow. Certainly (Google is) not doing anything that will disintermediate Realtors."

Google has not commented on rumors that it is out to buy its own real estate portal, and Trulia has also declined to comment on reports that it’s been in discussions with Google (see story).

In another move in the real estate space, Google this month rolled out an AdWords Comparison Ads for mortgage service, in which Google has partnered with several "loan pricing engines" that allows consumers to compare multiple offers from mortgage lenders that are generated automatically when they enter information about the loan they are seeking along with their credit rating (see story).

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