Roost unleashes a killer app … IDX

Roost launched last week, and I love it. They didn’t get sucked into the online real estate map and data fetishism I’ve bemoaned for some time. Rather, they deliver the goods – the listings – in the simplest, fastest way possible. It makes sense that an online shopping veteran like Alex Chang (who worked at would bring that sensibility to the property search category. It’s about time.

And they also avoid the vexing lacuna at the heart of a vertical search player like Trulia – that not insignificant bunch of listings you’ll likely never capture going door to door for broker feeds.

Roost rocks from a consumer standpoint. And in many ways, that’s all that matters.

But, boy, is this a mind bender when looked at from an industry perspective! Consider, for example, that this latest greatest online real estate play is based on IDX – a system mandated by NAR eons ago and a kludgy staple of broker and agent websites for years. Or that small independents have been airlifted to a position of online power in many of Roost’s launch markets by piggybacking on the bankroll and bravado of the venture backed startup.

And there is the irony of "John L. Scott" powering the Portland home search at the moment … in the form of an agent team that, being independent contractors, has no need to abide by the home office’s steadfast boycott of online listings aggregators (but this is just an IDX feed, right?).

The company’s emergence also casts and uncomfortable light on some pretty big homegrown opportunities that have been largely missed. Why are MLSs just now waking up to the potential of public-facing sites? Why have so few brokers developed and effectively marketed their own user friendly IDX-powered listings sites?

At a corporate level, RE/MAX (powered by millions in TV ads) and Prudential (powered by millions sent to Yahoo!) have effectively leveraged IDX/VOW. And Realogy is headed in the right direction now too. But most brokers have moved too slowly and are now compelled to react, scrambling once more to evaluate a new idea they themselves should have hatched years ago.

Ok, enough recriminations. Roost does illuminate a few possibilities. For many, it may be joining their network. If the company can deliver traffic, taking advantage of the excellent user experience may make more sense than trying to cobble together the marketing and engineering resources needed to go it alone. In a sense, you can look at Roost as a cutting edge IDX and online marketing vendor.

For the more ambitious, it may mean going to school on them and breaking out some bold moves in 2008. Like slashing your print spend, building a truly elegant property search destination, and making it absolutely integral to your messaging. That may not pencil for most brokers, but there’s something to be said for building your own asset.

Or perhaps the answer is to jump on onboard with Roost, while shaping up your own use of IDX. jetBlue, for example, delivers an excellent search experience on its own site and sends its inventory to Expedia.

Whatever happens or does not happen with Roost in the coming months, I welcome its disruptive force. Some will attack it. Some will buy into it. But all will be forced to consider its groundbreaking use of a tool that has been poorly applied for too long. And that will be a good thing.

Brian Boero