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A Real Estate Vertical Search Roundup, Part 2

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This concludes our roundup of a number of the most popular new real estate search verticals. Part 1 of this roundup is A Real Estate Vertical Search Roundup.

Move.com

Late last month, Homestore re-branded under the URL Move.com. The new site is positioned as a real-estate vertical "search engine" for all things related to buying, renting and relocation. As mentioned above, the Move.com network was the traffic leader according to comScore. In addition to the Move site, Homestore operates a range of websites, including Realtor.com, Welcome Wagon, Moving.com, SeniorHousingNet, and Homeplans.com. Those URLs survive, while the Move.com site replaces Homestore.com, HomeBuilder.com, Factorybuilthousing.com and RentNet.com.

MSN Real Estate

MSN Real Estate was the biggest mover (so to speak) in the most recent comScore real estate site rankings. Microsoft also operates Windows Live Expo, its classifieds marketplace (in beta), which includes free housing listings

MyNewPlace

MyNewPlace services the rental market. The map-based presentation of listings makes it similar to other sites, especially Trulia (below). However, MyNewPlace focuses exclusively on rentals and not on buying or selling. eBay-owned Rent.com, newspaper-owned Apartments.com and Craigslist are competitors.

Perhaps of greatest interest, the site has adopted the offline practice of changing a "commission" for leases actually signed, in this case a flat fee of $375 regardless of the unit or location. In other words every rental lead successfully delivered by the site and closed generates $375 for MyNewPlace - a cost per action model. The way MyNewPace polices and tracks successful closes is by paying a rebate ($100) to the renter. The renter claims the rebate and MyNewPlace knows the deal has been done - viola, perfect tracking!

PropertyShark

PropertyShark says it has photographed every single property in Manhattan, a feat that will be challenging to duplicate as it rolls out across the country. PropertyShark also says that it has data on every property in the markets it currently serves (17 cities), not just homes for sale or rentals. It claims to have data that are not available on other real estate sites, such as "pre-foreclosure" and foreclosure information. Maps are heavily featured on the site as well.

Redfin

Like HomePages, Seattle-based Redfin.com was an early "mashup" site, using maps as a primary navigation tool. Redfin recently announced new funding and that it was rolling out nationally. The site also shifted its business model from advertising to that of a discount broker-agent. Redfin now actually helps individuals buy and sell homes and claims it is involved in 1 percent of all transactions in the greater Seattle area today. It charges reduced fees and commissions, providing rebates to buyers, as much as $10,000 on a $500,000 sale.

SpotRunner

Like InmanStories, SpotRunner isn't a consumer destination but a marketing tool for small businesses. SpotRunner is an Internet-based media buying platform for cable television air time, targeting local advertisers. It offers hundreds of hours of professionally pre-produced, vertically organized "creative" (TV commercials) that can be customized. The company recently partnered with Cendant, the world's largest franchisor of real estate brokerage offices, including Century21 and Coldwell Banker. In the context of that deal, SpotRunner has offered special customization options to local realtors.

StreetEasy

Operating exclusively in New York City, StreetEasy is reputed by locals to be one of the best real estate sites for both rental property and homes for sale in the city.

Trulia

Another real estate search engine using a map-based interface, Trulia has national aspirations and plans to be available across the U.S. by the end of 2006. Trulia has been busy building out product features including sales trend data, crime statistics, local schools information and demographics, among other data. One of the most user-friendly of all the consumer real estate sites, it offers personalization and alerts (via email or RSS). The site is offering performance-based advertising to local realtors and brokers. Listings data come from local realtor sites. Movoto offers a similar look and feel and functionality on a much smaller scale, in two California counties.

Zillow

Yet another Seattle-based site, Zillow, which stands for "zillions of pillows,"offers a range of impressive tools for buyers and sellers but, curiously, no for-sale listings. Zillow is the ninth most popular site according to comScore, owing partly to curiosity about the potential sale value of one's home and the neighbor's house as well. It makes money off of advertising and traffic has grown rapidly in the four months the site has been live. Zillow has also recently licensed Microsoft's "Birds Eye" aerial photography, which is so far unique among real estate verticals. Before launch, earlier this year, Zillow received $32 million in venture capital money from Benchmark Capital and Technology Crossover Ventures.

Chris reviewed Zillow right after its March 2006 launch in the SearchDay article Finding the Values of US Homes.

There are many more well established sites (e.g., Yahoo Real Estate or Craigslist and lesser known niche sites that populate the online real estate landscape. Like other verticals online, real estate is a fragmented marketplace with literally thousands of broker and realtor sites each featuring a small number of listings. Each new competitor, even the national aggregators, makes it only more competitive and fragmented. Organizing and rationalizing these disparate sites into a network or more coherent marketplace that brings buyers and sellers together efficiently is what many of the providers above are now trying to accomplish.

Going forward, massive national aggregators like Move.com that offer comprehensivenes and marketing muscle will be pitted against niche sites like StreetEasy that bring depth and focus to single markets. But regardless of how the competitive landscape shakes out, one can expect online to claim a bigger share of real estate marketing dollars in the very near term. Even though the world is now much more complicated for both buyers and sellers, the richness and functionality of online real estate with maps, video and virtual tours make it very hard to go back to the black and white world of the local newspaper.

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