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Does Yahoo’s BOSS present a Challenge to Real Estate Sites?

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We know from marketing studies that more buyers and sellers of homes are heading towards the internet for examining their real estate needs. As shown by by the jozsoft blog, brokerages are not doing a good job at their own marketing efforts on the web, which has allowed sites like Trulia, Zillow, and Zoomf to come onto the marketplace to fulfill a need. However, if a startup could leverage the technology of a larger search engine, would these sites be effected?

I like to follow the developments of how the real estate industry interacts with the consumer on the internet, because I think that this medium has the power to change the way real estate functions. When Yahoo announced that they would allow webmasters to create search sites on their platform, I was intrigued. I went to one of my favorite blogs about alt search engines to read of this development. If you are interested in how internet search is developing, you have to be reading altsearchengines. I frequently read, but I never comment. With the above post though, I was curious about how such an event in search might effect those (specifically in real estate) in creating new ways to find information in niche areas, so I left a comment.

Charles Knight was kind enough to respond, suggesting that I present my question to those sites themselves to see what they think. No one has responded to me as of yet, but I began to look at what they were doing, and how they could be effected. First, it is incredibly easy with open source software to put the elements together for a site which could compete with these sites. For a means of creating listings, I can take a program like the one from OpenRealty.org. To allow forums, I can place either phpBB or Yabb (I just installed phpBB, because I think that an inexperienced person like me can eventually master it). There are open source wikis, but I am using the WordPress platform for my blog, which creates an environment that I like for presenting information to the consumer. With a little knowledge of HTML and StarOffice( but I could use OpenOffice), I can create some decent pages. To complete the picture, I could go to Yahoo for their search technology.

All of this will not allow me to effectively compete with a site like Trulia though. I have to first know how to make these pieces work together, while using effective SEO to draw visitors in. The real advantage of these other sites is reflected in a recent press release from Zillow. They are creating a committee of industry heavy weights to help guide their development. The connections that such sites have position them to remain competitive against a determined beginner. Many in the real estate industry do not like Trulia and Zillow for various reasons, but these sites do rely on the industry to help provide a space that consumers enjoy. Sites like Roost and DotHomes have not allowed the consumer to find all the information that they need (although, DotHomes may add such interaction to occur- this from when I spoke to one of the founders). This may give a new site a way to create an even more specific niche (lets say Houston Real Estate). There are sites that already do this, but if someone came from the  RE industry, they may have a better understanding of what the consumer needs, so they could create a better site.

Just to see where I could take this site, I wish to add more of these pieces here to comprehend how this can benefit the consumer. I think that if an industry professional from real estate and internet marketing came together, they could create a place on the web to serve the consumer well, but it may not be profitable. If we focused only on Houston real estate, how many searches could we really hope to garner. With around five thousand home sales in the city last month, there was about 1000 searches relating to the real estate market here. Yahoo’s offer would be helpful to them; however it may not be the most profitable for those who adapt it. It may be, but in my imagined scenario, it would be more for a person with a vested interest than for a new business model. You can always weigh in with your thoughts; I would be interested to hear them.

In the end, I think Redfin presents the most likely candidate to change the real estate industry. The search engines will continue to prosper because of what they provide to the consumer, but Redfin’s model goes to the core of how the sale of a home should be done.

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14 Responses to “Does Yahoo’s BOSS present a Challenge to Real Estate Sites?”

  1. Karen, it is a brave new world, which could be a blessing or a hindrance. It will be nice to see how it goes.

  2. Hi it’s David G from Zillow.com,

    Great idea to build a Real Estate mashup. There’s a lot of free software and content out there you can do it with. At Zillow, we’ve enabled developers to use much of our data via the Zillow API program (more details here: http://www.zillow.com/howto/api/APIOverview.htm)

    Why do we do it? The online Real Estate audience is extremely fragmented and so content and feature partnerships like Zillow’s API and Yahoo’s BOSS are great ways for those sites to extend their reach and for webmasters like yourself to avoid the massive expense of re-inventing the wheel. It’s a win-win partnership.

  3. David,
    thank you for dropping in. I should have mentioned that Zillow had such a program. I was concentrating more on Yahoo since that was on my mind. I think that you are correct with it being a win-win, since it would give professionals like me a chance to further my relationship with consumer in this market.

  4. not sure what your comments have to do with Boss. However I comment on the Redfin assertion that they will be the at the forefront.
    I do not think anyone will be at the forefront. Redfin attracts net diy’ers that will drive ten miles to save 5 cents on a tank of gas. That is a segment. Not the whole.

    I think that all things equal the market gets more and more fragmented as it is easier to create aps. Of the big boys it will always be how long will they get money from their angels? At some point it will runout and they had better have a margin.

  5. Karen Says:

    I’m getting reaquainted with the internet and I’m amazed at what’s out there. It’s a great way to view a home without the pressure of a Real Estate agent or a homeowner there looking over your shoulder.

  6. Yahoo’s BOSS presents away for professionals like myself to create a niche site with ease, and it led me on this thought process; hence the title.

    You are probably correct in the kind of consumer which is attracted to Redfin, but I did not write that Redfin will be in the forefront. I think that if changes will be made in how a transaction occurs (paricularly I am thinking of the compensation to the agent from commission to fee), that Redfin and others like them could force that switch in the market.

    Redfin’s victory over NAR in being allowed access to the MLS presents one change in which they have already effected. Your analysis of the finances and what those sites need to prepare for is something I could get behind.
    Thank you for your thoughts. I have to consider if many sites take up creating home search that it would effect Zillow, Trulia, and others. I guess that is why Zillow for one is looking to create partnerships.

  7. Mike from Zoomf here,
    Great post and just to give you the UK point of view. The biggest issue for the UK market is two-fold;

    1. lack of MLS
    2. agent internet adoption

    The UK market doesn’t have centralized lists of property on the market. All 10,000+ of the agent brands in the UK compete with each other. This means fragmentation to a huge degree. When you couple that with the fact that the agent market is far less internet saavy than the US agent, then you’ve got the rub.

    It is few and far between that you will run into an agent that will understand what a blog is, let alone know what to do with ‘software as service’ from Yahoo.

  8. To be honest Mike, when you look at a site like Active Rain, you can quickly see that there are agents here in the U.S. who have mastered the blog, but you quickly find that many are trying to understand it. Then you look at the market as a whole, you find that the majority of the agents here have not developed a strong (or any) presence on the web. We do know from surveys and studies conducted that more potential buyers are going online to find information, like what may be a good neighborhood, mortgage, insurance, or what to look for in a home.

    I appreciate your stopping by to give your perspective.

  9. Ivailo, I appreciate the analysis. Being a lowly inspector, I am not that up to date on the functioning of the different search engines. I had assumed incorrectly that one could target Yahoo’s BOSS to behave like vertical search engine. I understand how your site would be able to provide more accurate searches, and therefore a better fit with the consumer’s needs. I thought that a platform like BOSS might give an agent an effective tool for their site.

  10. Ivailo Says:

    Hi, Ivailo from retaggr.com and also one of the original co-founders of zoomf here.

    Good post and a fair question, hope I can address it. One of the main reasons vertical search companies (trulia, zoomf etc) exist and are useful is because the horizontal search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN etc) do not extract information from the “deep web”. Property listings are most of the time hidden behind forms and are more often then not inaccessible to general crawlers, therefore considered to live in the deep web. Google is experimenting with crawling through forms (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/04/crawling-through-html-forms.html), but I have not yet seen significant improvement in the real estate space.

    Horizontal search engines work by searching for keywords, while vertical search engines understand the content they are indexing. A good example would be a property listings stating that “the house is located 2 hour train ride from London” – a vertical search engine will not display that result for a search for “London property”, while a horizontal engine will go for the keyword match on London and the listing is likely to be shown. Along the same lines Yahoo’s index will be unable to answer a query for: a 3-5 bedroom house priced between $x and $y as it has no domain specific understanding of the listings it stores.

    Last but not least, because vertical engines crawl a small subset of content they are able to re-index content on a regular basis, thus making sure that the index is fresh, while the bigger search engines are not able to re-crawl the entire internet daily. Google is getting better with re-indexing highly dynamic sites, but in my experience Yahoo is very far behind.

    So in my opinion the launch of BOSS doesn’t present a challenge to real estate search sites at this point.

  11. Shell Smith Says:

    You just explained what I have been wondering for years now. I would love to have an interactive site that I could actually rely on. My worry would be to get a million e-mails or calls once you go to that site, but that would be avoided. I actually have been using a site called PropertyMaps that is the closest “ideal” for me. It has a great google maps/mls mashup that has been a great time saver. Good insights, thanks for sharing!

  12. The Property Maps site is good. I would like to see more agents or even brokerages give thought to their websites, and suggest the tools that I list as a way to help them do it. It may be a way for a real estate professional to create a community that would come back to his site, which could lead to better business. Your suggestion,Shell, is one way for us to start in building an “ideal” site.

    The promise that Yahoo holds out is tempting to one who wants to do more, and I like the thought of being able to provide a better site for th consumer.

  13. Shell Smith Says:

    I’m glad you liked it.

  14. Thanks for bringing it up.

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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