Map Based Real Estate Searches

by Nick Molnar on September 2, 2006

Trulia is one of several recently launched Web-sites that shows real estate information by placing icons on an interactive map. When you click on the icon, you see a photo of the home, some basic information, and a link to get more details. It has expanded the area it covers to include Indiana. It’s a nice user-friendly site, but limited. Searching Trulia for South Bend returns 203 properties as of September 2nd. Realtor.com returns 1,671. There is more to making a great real estate Web-site than the number of houses you index, but wouldn’t you want to start with the largest pool of listings?

Trulia is new, but not unique. Many large real estate Web-sites offer map based searches (Realtor.com, RE/MAX, Yahoo!, CB) and demographic information about various cities. With so many similar Web-sites, it is going to take more than plotting addresses on a map with a photo and the listing agent’s hyperbolic description to capture buyer’s attention. It’s going to take honest or at least neutral descriptions and location specific information that goes beyond the most recent census data – and the reach of the national sites.

It’s not enough to say “The median income in this township/ward/county is $82,573 and the crime rate is 4.3% below the state average.” Buyers need someone who can tell them “This is the only tree-lined street in the area since last year’s outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease” or “The city plans to broaden this street to four lanes, so these big lots will lose half of their front yard in a few years.” Sellers need to know if their neighborhood has a bad reputation because a tax assessment error years ago or if they should go ahead and replace their carpet because the house down the street is also for sale and is more appealing. Real estate is local, often to the scale of block-by-block distinctions.

Web 2.0 real estate sites are a great new tool for buyers and sellers, but they are ultimately data aggregators. They allow searches similar to what the MLS allows Realtors. That is a big change for the industry, and has worried many Realtors. But any Realtors who base their success on access to data others don’t have shouldn’t be in the business anyway. A Realtor’s core competence should be in listing and selling homes, in marketing and negotiations and easing difficult transactions. Those with these skills will welcome the public access to listing information and flourish. Those that don’t will end up fighting a losing battle to keep real estate an insider’s game.


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