Online real estate: It's anybody's ballgame

Trulia has better long term prospects that Zillow. The
reason: Listings. Trulia will struggle greatly over the next year. The reason:

We know — and have known, for a decade now — that
listings are what consumers interested in real estate look for most when they
go online. We also know that serious home shoppers need to see darn near all
the listings, not just some. So Trulia had it right. And decided to go around the
MLS mess to get as many listings as possible.

But as marvelous as the Trulia experience may be, I’m
still going to choose the utterly confusing IDX feed on my local broker’s site
if I’m really serious about finding a home. I will also spend little time on
sites like Yahoo Real Estate or AOL Real Estate, which offer me spotty or
confusing search tools surrounded by a crazy quilt of deal-driven content. Both
of these properties get tons of traffic, but to what end? 

Then there’s They’ve had nearly all the
listings from the beginning, but executed poorly for the first ten years and
suffer from a serious case of bad vibes. And I don’t like sifting through all
the "featured" listings to get at what I want.

And the big brand sites? RE/MAX does it right (though
they have serious UI problems). Century 21, which seems to have just launched a
new website (click through the home page and you’ll see what I mean), gives me
ten ways to search eight listings in my entire ZIP code. Coldwell Banker has a
great site but only offers Coldwell Banker listings.

What does this mean? A couple things:

First, the online real estate category is still wide
open. Listings are what it’s all about and no one has nailed it. Trulia is
getting there, but they have miles to go on coverage. And they have kicked down
more barriers to entry over the past two years than they have thrown up behind
them. They’re vulnerable.

Second, brokers have a huge opportunity right now. So
long as the MLS beast persists and new entrants have to find workarounds, they
have the goods. Why every brokerage company in America

is not building a killer
online listings destination in their market and driving all their marketing to
it is still beyond me.

It makes me think we ought to put blogs and widgets aside
for a moment and get the basics covered first.

Brian Boero