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Google moves further into real estate

April 7, 2006

Search giant adds new features

By Janis Mara
Inman News

Ten-ton-gorilla Google is stomping further and further into the real estate arena, now offering real estate-specific pulldown menus leading to expanded search categories and maps in its Google Base product.

If you type "San Francisco real estate" into Google's homepage search box, a new choice appears at the top of the organic search results: "Refine your search for San Francisco real estate," with boxes for location and listing type.

When you make your choices and click "Search housing," the next screen is Google Base, with a San Francisco map and a number of search categories, including listing type, property type, location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Google Base is a Web site where property listings and other information can be uploaded and displayed online for free. In March, it became possible to search Google Base via Google, giving rise to speculation that Google intends to develop Base as an MLS.

While by no means as elaborate as sites such as Realtor.com, the new Base interface is "a pretty good experience," according to Greg Sterling, an independent local media analyst.

"This is just the beginning," the analyst said. He said the real estate arena has a lot to offer to Google and other entrepreneurs.

"I don't think consumers think of any particular Web site when they look for housing," Sterling said. "I don't think there is a dominant space." Hence, Google "has the opportunity, if they promote themselves, to develop a pretty strong and powerful offering that would attract a lot of consumers," Sterling said.

However, the analyst said, "If they (Google) really want this to fly as a consumer destination and get broad consumer usage, they are going to have to get comprehensive data." Currently, the site features only a limited number of listings, many from Homes and Land and FSBO sites.

Commenting along the same lines as Sterling, Peter Zollman, founder of Classified Intelligence, says Google's real estate offering is a huge threat to publishers, according to Frank Barnako of MarketWatch -- though he also said it's "nothing new."

Currently, the only information displayed on Google Base is uploaded by its users. Google does not spider the Web for listings to appear on Google Base and hence the only listings up on Google Base are those that agents or their intermediaries have chosen to upload.

While countless Web sites now exist enabling consumers to search MLS property listings online, those sites often extract personal information from the searchers to be used as leads. Google Base, which launched in November, does not require such information.

Google Base works somewhat similarly to craigslist, making it possible to quickly and easily create a free posting that will appear online and can be located by searching specific terms, such as "real estate for sale." Now, it's possible to find Google Base listings via Google itself, and search for properties via a number of categories and an integrated map function.

Copyright 2006 Innam News



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