Partial vision

If a listing is fed to an FTP folder and no one sees it, does it exist?

The old line about the tree falling in the desert kept bounding around my head after a debate I had with a colleague earlier this week. The issue? Whether consumers notice – or care – that most home listings sites offer them only a partial view into any market.

I notice and care. And the number of people like me will grow. Why should we believe that the educated, tech savvy people who search for homes online will endure hopscotching between sites to get a complete picture of available inventory if they don’t have to?

Let’s say you’re a fan of sci-fi. Would you find Amazon a compelling destination if the company offered only 60% of the titles in that genre? Or maybe you’re a shoe horse. Would Zappos have nearly as much appeal if you weren’t comfortable knowing that they give you a look at everything Kenneth Cole has to offer? There’s a reason these sites are category leaders.

There was a time, those misty golden days of 2005, when a mashup and a nice UI made for a beguiling home search experience. A site like Trulia made and your locals broker’s IDX feed look pretty antique, as indeed they were. But the emergence of slicker IDX products like Diverse Solutions and the innovative spin of Roost are changing the game at the very time real estate search and classified sites are proliferating. Even’s got a refresh in beta.

The listings legerdemain can’t be sustained. Consumers who bowled over auto dealers, travel agents and insurance brokers may never roll real estate, but it’s fanciful to think they won’t wise up to half-stocked shelves.

So, no, I was not too stoked about Zillow’s announcement of a deal with NCI.

I think we’re headed for a major shakeout in the listings space over the next 18 months. A site like dothomes may pull enough levers to play the traffic arbitrage game; horizontal classifieds sites like Oodle and craigslist may get some casual browsers; but they certainly won’t emerge as category leaders. Consumers – at least those who are serious about finding a home – won’t settle for partial vision. Would you?

Who wins?

Brokers who leverage the killer tool (IDX) sitting under their nose.
MLSs that wake up and vote for Lincoln.
Media companies that create a more broadly conceived online real estate experience
Internet companies that leverage IDX

Am I off base? If so, tell me. It’s an important question.

Brian Boero