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The Golden Age of Real Estate Search

Redfin expanded into Oregon this week.

I’m excited – if for no other reason that I am finally able to use one of the best online search interfaces in my home market.

We’ve come a long way with search since the introduction and explosion of map-based search tools not so many years back. And while the tools available to consumers today are better than they’ve ever been, I still think there are more exciting things to come.

Here a few things that get me fired up when I think about the future of search:

Location awareness

Mobile platforms like the iPhone and Android have kick-started the buzz around location-awareness, and it’s grown into one of the hottest categories in technology right now. Companies like Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla have emerged as major players for consumers’ attention.

And as web sites become more app-like, location awareness will spread to the browser. Already services like loki.com (created by location data giant Skyhook Wireless) allow developers to add location to their sites through an API. And the latest version of the Firefox browser uses Google Location Services by default. Location and search are inextricably linked, so it won’t be long before some enterprising service decides to marry the two on the desktop.

Geo-tagged content

Homequest is a Portland-based company to keep an eye on. They’re building a intriguing suite of solutions on top of the open source WordPress content management system. Their IDX plugin, released earlier this year, goes a step further than most other IDX solutions by allowing site owners to embed geo-coded blog posts they’ve written alongside MLS listings.

I think this co-mingling of user-generated content alongside listings is going to add a new dimension to search, bring greater relevance to neighborhood overviews and has the possibility of firmly establishing agents as local market experts.

Augmented Reality Maps

Bing Maps is really showing us where mapping on the web is going. Google Maps is looking a little dusty in comparison. Fire up Bing Maps (you’ll need Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin installed in your browser) and check out the new Photosynth layer. Photosynth takes 2-dimensional photography and applies it to 3-dimensional space creating instant renderings of places.

If you haven’t already seen Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ demo at TED this year, you can get a sense of where this is all heading.

Immersive video

Google’s Street View added a new dimension to property pages and was quickly adopted by most of the major search portals. Immersive Media, a company that cut it chops this month at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, broadcast NBC’s Today show in 360 video.

360 video, you ask – how could that change online real estate?

Just watch.

Bundle all of this technology together with the potential of new gesture-based interaction with our devices and we’re entering what I believe will soon become the Golden Age of real estate search.

Photo by redfinpics

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18 Responses to “The Golden Age of Real Estate Search”

  1. Bob Samii says:

    Really great post – i’m fired up as well. One other thing that i’m interested in seeing is the application of Visual Search… I drive by a property for sale take a picture of it with my mobile device and receive all the info I need. Maybe the Google Goggles team is already working on this??

    Bob
    @inmotionre

  2. Wonton says:

    I was all about it until the last one. 9 years ago we used to have this egg thingie http://tinyurl.com/yz2gnpo that did 3D Video exactly as you showed above. Way back in 2001. We tried to use it for virtual tours and it never caught on. Maybe it was too far ahead of it’s time!

  3. Raphael says:

    Bob, to be quite honest with you that already exist with the use of QR codes. However, it’s still about another 2 years away from mainstream. The texting generation is all ready adopting it.

  4. Barrett Powell says:

    I’ve been a beta tester for Google and Microsoft for some time. I started using Photosynth to do virtual tours of properties. I found it very engaging and a much better experience than the traditional photo and virtual tours we are accustom to.

    I started using WordPress as a true website a couple of months ago. I have been using the WordPress.org hosted version some time ago to blog. But I now have my own hosted version as my main real-estate website. What a great technology. The use of plug-ins has been great. I found a couple that augment the hyper-local information gap you describe in your post. They pull data from multiple websites like Zillow, Yelp, Education, and others to mashup a single page of local information about an area including blogs.

    Thanks for shedding some light on these and other exciting developments for practitioners.

  5. Barrett Powell says:

    Continuing with WordPress…

    As a test, I selected a couple of keywords and long tail search terms that I wanted to test out. I made sure that the blog post I did included those keywords and terms. I used the Posterous.com sight to aggregate the post to various other supporting sites and social media. I did this for certain post, but not all as not every post was appropriate to every social site.

    After a couple of weeks, my site was the top site for the search terms I was targeting. And the other sites where I also posted to were on page one as well. Now I am formatting the e-mail I send to Posterous to include appropriate backlinks from all the sites. This coupled with the SEO plug-ins has really opened my eyes to the possibility.

    I understand SEO done this way is just part of the equation, but the rich content possibilities and huge plug-in library should make it very practical to create some very engaging real-estate websites.

    One plug-in I have been using is the Local Market Explorer. Once you have applied for and received API keys from the partner websites (Zillow, Flickr, Yelp, etc.), you can use LME to create a page mashup of the information. Depending on your geography, the information can be very local, down to the individual neighborhood even. You can even tag your blog post to be pulled in to the page for a certain area.

    I can easily see the ability to geocode data so when you do a search of an area or look at details of a listing it pulls a mashup of the area together to give someone a complete view.

    These are very exciting times indeed. Now if I can just find a killer IDX partner that also works with my local MLS. That is the current challenge.

    Barrett

  6. Carin Arrigo-Zimmer says:

    Wow, pretty impressive. Appreciate your WordPress comments, Barnett. As a soon-to-be-wordpress.org-user, you assist in shedding more light in what I’ve already learned. Thanks.

    I agree with what Marc says, “access to all listings is still the heart of any search experience” Still a novice in this arena and one who’s yet to use these tools, I wonder how much this technology will matter to a consumer based on what Marc shared?

  7. Barrett Powell says:

    Speaking of access to ALL the listings. One thing that just plain makes me made is a local MLS with policies that don’t promote sharing of MLS data.

    One such MLS is the Wilmington, NC MLS. I just met with an IDX company today who said they had just dropped support for the Wilmington MLS. Apparently the MLS has decided to start charging every IDX vendor $30/month per customer for their feed. This appears to be an effort to make the Wilmington MLS’s own offering more competitive and drive away competition.

    Why some local memberships make some of the decisions they do is beyond me. The system needs to be re-worked.

  8. rob | atlanta homes says:

    Barrett:

    Visited your site. Nice work. I like the logo. I’ve got my kids going in a logo making contest for my site right now.

    I switched from a static/php hand coded site a few months ago over to WordPress. The only thing I miss about the old site is the raw blazing SPEED of the thing, near-instanteneous. WP can be very slow at times.

    The flexability and availability of add-ons, plugins, widgets, etc., for wordpress makes it all so enjoyable.

    I see you are using a fairly skinny size for your site. It’s almost the exact same width as mine. I see a lot of other sites MUCH wider than both of ours.

    Thinking about that some. Yours is looking a little cramped with all the goodies on there. If I add much more to mine, I’ll need to go wider.

    BTW, I lived in The triangle from 1994-1999.

    RM

  9. Barrett Powell says:

    Thanks Rob,

    The one thing I am missing is a really good MLS search. The ones I like, like Diverse Solutions you have, is not available for my MLS. The ones that are here don’t play well yet with WP. Most even force you to open a new window on their site.

    FWIW, I spent a lot of time in Atlanta with IBM in a previous life.

  10. rob | atlanta homes says:

    Yeah, you are stuck with what is offered in your area, I know.

    Due to the size of the Atlanta market, there are probably 35 or more IDX providers.

    I diligently went through EVERY one of them back in December and chose Diverse Solutions.

    There was only one that was arguably better but it only came with a full suite for running an entire brokerage and costs $40k!

    I’ve now got a backlog of projects for my site and I’m about to get the web developer hat back on for a few days.