As the housing market cools, the real estate vertical is heating up. Today, real estate search engine Trulia launched several new features, a week after Zillow introduced new functionality and about three weeks after Yahoo! Real Estate announced a range of new tools and a site redesign.
Trulia has now expanded and is offering nationwide coverage through a mix of crawling and listing feeds. It's also providing a range of new information on real estate price trends, comparable homes and neighborhood guides (i.e., schools, commutes and crime data). Here's are example guides for Chicago, Illinois and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Perhaps the most fun new feature/tool on the site are heat maps, which show prices per square foot by area. Here's Chicago and San Diego, California. Zillow introduced something similar last week (Here's an example for Boston, Massachusetts.) The Trulia heat maps are interactive, however, and can be used as a way to locate homes for sale. Buyers can visually identify an area with a price per square foot they can afford and then go directly from the map to listings or an area guide to learn more.
Trulia is ad supported and is showing branded listings within relevant search results. Here's an example for a neighborhood in Miami, Florida. The ads at the top will be relevant to whatever criteria the user has indicated. There's also branded advertising on the adjacent maps. Trulia also has RSS feeds and alerts so users can stay abreast of properties within their criteria without having to visit the site every day.
Trulia is just a year old and has put together one of the most feature rich, useful and user-friendly of the real estate sites on the market. It is not as heavily trafficked as some but from a usability standpoint can go head to head with any site out there.
Real estate as a vertical is a perfect kind of a laboratory for local search. It offers an obvious and valuable implementation of maps, lots of monetization opportunities and ready would-be advertisers who are aggressive and generally ahead of the small business curve when it comes to creativity and online marketing.
Because there's so much money in the sector -- the National Association of Realtors estimates that approximately $12 billion dollars is spent annually in the U.S. on real estate marketing and advertising -- there's lots of competition and innovation.
Now with a slowing market it will get even more intense.