If you are building a real estate search site and you didn’t hear the warning shot fired by Google today, then you don’t really deserve to be in business much longer. While just about anyone building a real estate search tool should be concerned, I’m going to focus this article on my friends over at Zillow…
Zillow: be worried… Be very worried.
Here’s some background… Yesterday I was playing around with some google searches when I noticed a new box that shows up when you do a real estate search… as in [Seattle+real+estate]:
This takes you to a simple (and kind of ugly) results page:
Where you can also go to a simple (and not very user-friendly) map of listings:
My impression of Google’s latest features is that the data is VERY incomplete and the interface is ugly.
So, why should the people behind Zillow be worried?
- You are not sticky. I’m a hard-core real estate user and after satisfying my Day 1 voyeurism, I’ve never had a good reason to visit your site again. I’ve talked with your staff about this and I know that you are not geared toward a user like me, but I recommend you find a way to create stickiness if you really are planning to be an ad-based media company. Why? See reason #2…
- A super-sticky site only has to be half as good at proving a home valuation to decimate your business. People who start their home search on-line do not start a home search by typing in [www.zillow.com] or even [www.realtor.com]. People start a home search (and especially people moving to a new city) by typing a query into a google search box. From now on, those people are ALL going to see Google’s offerings, and should Google decide to add a valuation tool, the tool will likely be “good enough” so that they never even both going to Zillow. Google only has to be good enough at providing a valuation in order to capture most of your market. Why? See reason #3…
- People are lazy. People don’t use your site to get the “exact” price of their home since you don’t even try to provide it. If you asked 10 appraisers to value a typical Seattle home, you would get 10 different answers and at least a 5% standard deviation in their answers. Even if you can improve your answers by 2% more to match the variability inherent in the emotional decisions associated with buying a home, that is still not good enough. Don’t waste much more time trying to improve your appraisal methods. You’re good enough and soon others (like Google?!?) will have a service that is good enough as well. Instead, find something sticky. You have a very talented team, so I doubt you’re suffering from lack of ideas. Nonetheless, it is clearly time to develop something that will bring me back to your site on a regular basis.
To everyone else creating real estate search tools, I’m not convinced that a vertical real estate search will ever beat Google’s offerings UNLESS they have a much better database of homes than Google. Right now, Google is seriously lacking in quality inventory. However, if the consumers go there (and they will), then you can expect brokers (and someday brokerages!) to follow with their listings.