Google has the Real Estate Industry on Borrowed Time

Filed in Google by Matt McGee on November 20, 2009 8 Comments

As you probably know by now, real estate is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart — quite literally. My wife is a real estate agent. My sister is a real estate agent. My dad opened his own agency in the 1950s and still works from a home office today as he approaches a tender 80 years old. It’s not just personal, though; real estate is all about small business and I try to watch what’s happening in the industry as much as possible.

Google logoLately, I’ve been watching Google take one baby step after another, pushing into real estate as quietly as Google can do anything. Last night, I wrote about Google’s latest step on Search Engine Land: Google Builds out a National Real Estate Search Engine. The creation of individual “place pages” for property listings is Google’s latest step toward building out what I believe will be a challenger to any web site, big or small, that offers property listings. The article has apparently earned a lot of buzz today around real estate circles, and I want to point out two posts that caught my eye:

1.) 1000Watt Consulting: Google makes yet another big move into real estate territory

Author Brian Boero says, rightly so if you ask me, “Sure, Trulia, Zillow and a hundred other online real estate sites do this. But this is Google, folks – a force so large that it can upend entire categories overnight.”

2.) Bloodhound Blog: “Google Places” is a “National Real Estate Search Engine”? Not so much.

Despite the apparently contrary headline, I think author John Rowles and I are in agreement on what’s going on here. He makes the smart suggestion that Google could turn the Local Business Center into a Local Property Listings Center and allow the property owner and/or real estate professional to manage the listing the same way local businesses can manage their business information. Says John:

“Given that option, it’s easy to see how people, who are as distrustful of real estate agents as they have ever been in the wake of housing bubble, might migrate to a real estate information platform that is outside the industry’s control and has the added benefit of the familiar Google user experience.

When Google puts something like this out there, THEN its time to freak out if you are NAR, a local MLS, Move Inc, an IDX vendor, etc..

Until then, enjoy the borrowed time.”

Borrowed time. I think that’s a great way to put it right now.

Comments (8)

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  1. Stever says:

    Here in Canada the government just forced the national MLS service to open it up to the public allowing private sellers to create listings for a nominal fee of a few hundred bucks. Up till now the only way into the MLS was through a realtor, or by signing a contract that you would pay a commission to a realtor regardless of how a sale happens.

    The days of high commissions, and anyone and their dog becoming a realtor because it was easy money, are coming to an end. Googles moves will only accelerate that.

  2. Meh..

    Consumers want ALL the listings and they want as much info as possible.

    Google will really have to dive into the real estate space if they want to become a player.

    Trulia, Zillow, Cyberhomes – even have some of the listings and in some markets, even most. When I run comparisons of these big boys and their data, they usually are way off for my small market. Only having half the listings and being off on median price by $100-$200,000 is par for the course.

    I looked up one of my listings – interesting that Google’s source is Hotpads – a syndication destination of mine. Strange because Windermere Real Estate has been sending data to Google Base for years. You think they might use that data instead which is richer and is the “direct” source.

    Google can choose to change the game, but it won’t happen by default.

  3. David Peters says:

    @Geordie – This is David from HotPads. Can you shoot me an email with a link to what you’re talking about?

    We syndicate to increase exposure and certainly don’t mean to override anyone’s own, so if I can figure out where your listings are coming from I will remove them from our Google Base feed.

  4. @David Thanks for the reply.

    I don’t mind the HotPads link. I appreciate listing syndication and have worked hard to get my listings as many places as possible.

    What I find amusing is that Windermere took the time to create a relationship with Google and send all of our listings to Google Base. Unfortunately, I think they tried the “set it and forget it” strategy and haven’t followed up to make sure it’s working.

    As I’ve said before, Google will have to commit to really make real estate listings work. It’s a crazy complex world of feeds and data and acronyms. Welcome to the world of IDX vs VOW, RETS and RPR…

  5. Sue says:

    Yes it is all really interesting to see where this is going to lead….I have a few real estate clients and they are all taking note! Great post by the way – thanks!

  6. Dan Connolly says:

    I know it seems on the surface that Google could be a threat if it loaded the listings, but the reality is that real estate really is local and IMO there will never be a national site that can beat a local one.

    In our area at any given time there are 80-100K listings. Understanding the area values, safety factors, economic issues is critical to helping someone find the right house. We have different areas in our region where the exact same house will cost from 35,000 to 350,000 depending on the location.

    Looking at a national site like or Zillow which just shows a list sorted by price, or city or county without the imput of the local expert doesn’t help anyone make an educated decision.

  7. Carrie Hill says:

    Hi Matt,
    I’m wondering – we serve a large client base of vacation rental management companies that combine their rental business on their real estate website (certainly against our advice but it does happen.)

    So I have two questions to ponder here:

    1) Do you think Google out ranking the real estate pages will affect the vacation rental pages in any way?

    2) Also I’m wondering how far of a “leap” is it to see Google include Vacation Rentals in their Real Estate site…?

    Would appreciate anyone’s thoughts 🙂

  8. Matt McGee says:

    Hi Carrie – thx for stopping by. Couple things in reply:

    1) These place pages for individual real estate listings aren’t being included in Google’s main search index. So they shouldn’t be outranking the crawlable and indexable MLS listings pages that Googlebot crawls on real estate sites.

    2) I don’t think anything is a leap where Google is concerned. We know their intentions about being the world’s primary gatekeeper of information. So yeah, it makes sense that new types of data will continue to be added to Maps. Do you agree?

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