The end of real estate "search"

The forces that will kill real estate search as we know it have been set in motion. They are embryonic but growing rapidly. They will overtake their prey within a couple years.

Personally, I look forward to this. I’m tired of filling out form fields, yanking on drop downs and fiddling with sliders. In fact, “searching” for anything suggests, a.) that you’ve lost something, or b.) anxiety.

There are three reasons why I think we’re in for a big change:

  1. Everyone has a mobile phone
  2. The Web experience on these devices is improving at breathtaking speed
  3. Location awareness, either through GPS or cell tower triangulation, is being built into more and more of them

What does this mean? It means the Web will become something we experience with increasing ease. We’ll do less searching and more finding. Our very presence will replace “search criteria” for location specific items like ATMs, coffee houses — and homes.

This is part of what many have called the “ambient Web.” The hardware is ready; the Web apps will follow soon.

A couple months ago, Yahoo! introduced its FireEagle platform, which allows users to securely share their location online and gives developers a suite of APIs for feeding them information based on where they are at any given moment. Google released a “My Location” feature to its maps late last year. Microsoft added location awareness to its Live Search in the UK and Japan just last week. The latest update to my iPhone made driving directions much easier by automatically finding my starting point, even when I am lost.

The FireEagle site’s home page reads, in part:

“We’re here to make the whole web respond to your location and help you to discover more about the world around you.”

Location, location, location indeed. Here’s how it could play out in real estate:

An IDX vendor or listings aggregator writes a FireEagle app, tying a feed to users who have location aware mobile devices. As a user moves about — say, on a Sunday drive through a new neighborhood — listings pop up on her screen much like road signs present themselves through the windshield. To take this still deeper, if the app ties together data points like the user’s credit score and loan app, it will only display properties in her price range.

See, no more searching.

I know this sounds far-fetched right now. Most brokers are still limited by sclerotic IDX solutions and old school “Website vendors”. And I realize that mobile, location aware online real estate apps won’t be much use for relos and those unconvinced by assurances of privacy. However, as I have argued before, the customer has “left the building” — accessing the real estate information they need on the go.

As sure as I sit here typing on Gregory Street in Oakland, this is coming.

I can’t wait!

Brian Boero