It was wonderful to have some quality time with the Trulia last night and I had a blast chatting about real estate search with them.
Sami and Kelly were great sports and the group ended up spending about an hour and a half discussing Trulia’s business plan and how others (like RCG!) might plug into their “platform”.
Seeing as how I posted the invite to the “chat” a few hours before the event, I didn’t expect too many people and was pleasantly surprised at the turn-out:
- Sami Inkinen (Trulia co-founder)
- Kelly Roark (Trulia VP of industry development)
- Dustin Luther (RCG)
- Anna Luther (RCG)
- Robbie Paplin (Caffeinated Software)
- Jon Ribary (LTD Properties)
- Stephen Schramke (Instant Home Valuations) (please let me know if I got the name wrong!)
Interestingly, we dived into some questions I had about their business model pretty darn quickly and because I would completely fail if I tried to articulate the opinions of each of the participants. Instead I’ll only give my take on the Trulia’s place in future of real estate search (and welcome other participants to write up “meeting notes” if they are interested).
Most of my questions revolved around how Trulia planned to serve these four main groups (I’ve also included the ways they might serve these groups):
- Brokerages: with (1) exclusive listings and/or (2) enhanced placement.
- Agents: with (1) great branding opportunities and/or (2) tools to increase the agent’s internet “presence”.
- Buyers: with (1) the most comprehensive listings, (2) the cleanest search interface, and/or (3) connections to the best real estate professionals.
- Sellers: with (1) reasonably priced listings and/or the (2) widest possible exposure.
In talking with Trulia, it became clear that these guys have every intention of serving the brokerage community very well. They’ve opted to sign agreements with many of the largest real estate brokerage firms in order to get a live version of their feeds. In return, they’ve agreed to limit the type of listings they show (read: No FSBOs) and they’ve agreed to send people to the listing brokers website for detailed information on a home that is for sale. From what I can gather, they definitely have won over the largest brokerage firms and seem to be serving them well.
For agents, they offer some tools like one that allow agents to put a Trulia search on their site and another tool that allows real estate sites to list the most recently added homes. While the tools are interesting, I do not see anything that would make most agents jump at the opportunity to work with Trulia, especially since their search results will send potential buyers to the listing broker’s website if they find a home they are interested in. We discussed how a few forward thinking brokers realize that they best serve their clients when they give them the maximum amount of information, I don’t see that logic prevailing in the industry any time soon.
It is with buyers that I’m seeing the largest weaknesses in their business model. They have no plans to get a complete listing of “MLS” data (actually, it sounds like they may have completely ruled out the opportunity through contracts they’ve signed with large brokerages). In somewhere like NY where there is no “one” MLS, this strategy allows them to include listing data from a majority of the brokers and will quite possibly allow them to have the largest database of listed homes. However, in somewhere like Washington (and Oregon, California, and I think most of the country), this strategy means that they will never have the most complete database of homes (at least not under the current MLS system). Maybe I’m missing something, but I simply cannot see how this is going to win buyers over… Even an ugly search interface is better than a snazzy Trulia search if it includes a larger selection of homes that are on the market. In other words, if I’m interested in a home in Sunset Hill and there are three homes available in my price range, I want to see all three, not just the two that are represented by brokers who have signed agreements with Trulia.
So, that addresses the issue of the most comprehensive listings, but how do they fair in “(2) the cleanest search interface”, and “(3) connections to the best real estate professionals”?
They definitely have the cleanest home search interface around and considering they put a lot of effort into making their searches lightning fast, they definitely serve the buyers best interests in this respect!
In terms of the issue of connecting the buyers with the best real estate professionals, I think they are missing the boat. Sure the listing broker’s website may have the most information available about a listing, but if their set-up encourages buyers to contact the listing agent (as oppose to a buyer’s agent), I do not think they are serving the buyer very well. To give an example, imagine if Google sent everyone who was looking for information on a iPod to Apple’s website (it is an Apple product after all). Sure Apple might be the best source of information on an iPod (assuming they share all the good and bad that they know), but is Apple’s website really the best place to research (let alone buy) an iPod? To bring this back to real estate buyers, the best way they could serve buyers would be if they could hook them up with an agents who had their best interests in mind (as oppose to an agent who has the best interest of the seller in mind).
One of the weaknesses in my Apple example is that Trulia includes a vast amount of awesome stats available directly on their website so that a buyer can find out information like comparable homes on the market without ever turning to the listing agent’s site for more detailed information on the listing itself. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t plan to have the most comprehensive database of homes (at least not in areas with one functioning MLS) and they do not offer a way for a buyer to hook up with a good agent, but rather, they guide them to the listing agent.
For Sellers, they mentioned that they do not offer much. They are focused on working with brokerages, so the best they offers sellers is that if they use a real estate professional, they will indirectly benefit from the exposure on Trulia.
In reading over my text, I can’t help but notice just how negative I sound on Trulia. In reality, they are a great group of people and I’ve enjoyed EVERY interaction I’ve ever had with them. Along those lines, I decided to go back and remind myself of why I found Trulia so inspiring when they launched:
- The search interface is as simple as entering a city name or a zip code! The UI is beautiful.
- The filtering by other features like Price, Bedrooms, Bathrooms and Price is fast and very intuitive!
- When clicking on more detail for a listing, you get the VERY useful information like the price per square foot, the days on the market, as well as details for other recently sold homes and similar homes in the area!
- The color coded recently sold homes is awesome!
- I really like that the the location of my search is stored in the url. This allows me to easily save and or send an area of interest. For example, here are the homes for sale in the part of Los Angeles where I grew up: http://www.trulia.com/CA/Eagle_Rock/90041/. (Also notice that it has neighborhood facts on this page.)
- It has RSS feeds so that I can subscribe to my zip code and be updated each time a listing comes on the market.
All of these points are still valid and represent reasons that I still think Trulia is a fascinating and innovative company. My hope is that my comments in this post, especially when negative, will provide some food for thought to the people I’ve grown to really like over at Trulia. Their UI (user-interface) is a beautiful thing and blows away the UI of any other home search tool that I’ve seen. It is Trulia beautiful thing! 😉