Adventures in digital listing land

Recently, one of my clients (Real Property Associates) asked me to automate the process of submitting (or advertising) their real estate listings and rental properties on Trulia, Google Base, and Craigslist. After implementing the feature, I thought sharing my experiences would a make an interesting blog post. (So here we are)…

[photopress:Feed_1_2.gif,full,alignright]As you may know, there are 2 ways of getting your listings on Trulia. The easiest is just to let Trulia crawl your site. Unfortunately this method doesn’t work very well since there are an infinite number of ways to present listings on a web page, and Trulia’s engineers haven’t been able to spend the requisite infinite amount of time required to handle all the cases. This isn’t a knock on Trulia, since Google Base doesn’t even attempt to do this, but just a reminder that there are a lot of things software just can’t do yet. If this method works for you, your lucky.

The recommended way is far more reliable. You merely need to host an XML file on your web site that contains the listings you want to promote, and then once day or so, Trulia’s web farm will request your file, parse it, and import onto their site for the whole world to see.

In my case, since I already export MLS searches via RSS (I knew writing that feature was a good idea), I merely had to spend a couple hours tweaking the output of my MLS RSS feed pages to match Trulia’s schema, register the URL on Trulia, and in 48 hours, we had listings on Trulia. And in 72 hours, I noticed referrals from Trulia was already generating about 4% of the site’s traffic!

By comparison, Google Base was easier in some respects and more cumbersome in others. The nice thing about the Google Base file format is that it is standard RSS. Or rather, it’s standard in the same way the Microsoft Word exports standard HTML. It’s RSS with a bunch of namespaced items for the custom attributes that Google Base uses for it’s Housing item type. Anyway, if you have already have an MLS RSS feed, tweaking the output to match Google’s schema is pretty straight forward. I should note that Google appeared to be more particular about the XML it gets than Trulia appeared to be, so you’ll probably be spending more time getting things onto Google Base.

The problem with Google Base isn’t creating the feed, it’s getting it up there. You see, Google Base does not download an URL like Trulia does, therefore you have to upload your data to the GooglePlex. There are 2 ways to upload your data, via a web browser or via ftp. I ended up writing a script on my server that would download a Google Base feed from my web server, and then upload it to Google in the middle of the night.

Automating Craigslist from a web page was an interesting challenge. They have a very aggressive anti-spamming policy, CAPTCHAs, have no supported way of submitting a post programatically, and the web browser’s cross domain security model certainly doesn’t make things easier. Fortunately, I found a way around everything but the CAPTCHA, but it required some IE only technology since Firefox on Windows still doesn’t support COM automation. (BTW, if any developers out there know if XUL applications on Firefox/Mozilla can accomplish everything IE based HTA’s can, drop me line. I’d love to talk with you)

After serving up listings to “the major players”, I decided to see what the beast from Redmond was up to. Turns out they want in on the action too (big surprise), and the 1-2 punch of Windows Live Expo and Live Product Upload appears to be Microsoft’s answer to both Craigslist and GoogleBase. I’ve signed up for the Live Product Upload Beta, and I’m looking forward to adding support for their service once they get their act together. It looks promising, but currently their upload service is more designed for merchants selling products, instead of real estate professionals selling homes.

Hopefully, the Live Product Upload team will correct this oversight and support multiple item types for upload. They better not wait too long to get that feature implemented, because I’ve recently discovered that Propsmart, Oodle, Edgeio, already have web feed programs in place for XML formatted listing submission. It looks like I’m going to be busy…

So, what sites do you use for listing promotion (or just reading classifieds)? looks like a promising up and comer. Anybody use to assist in your online classified ad management? Anybody using Zillow,, or Ebay for listings promotion? Is paid advertising worth the expense when the free online classified marketplace is exploding?

Fire Sale in Queen Anne on Craig’s List

[photopress:fire_sale.jpg,thumb,alignright]I was out and about in Seattle today. Before heading off to finish staging the townhome I listed tonight in Ballard/Fremont, I got a call from a new client asking me about a property she found on Craig’s List.

It was a For Sale By Owner in Queen Anne at 2447 5th Ave W. I decided to meet her over there so we could chat and I could see the place for one of our investor clients. I have never seen a house after a fire like this one…every burnt ember is still intact! The hanging burned curtain…the mattress springs from the totally burnt mattress…all that was left were the springs! The walls in the dining room were incredible…looked like folded black crepe paper.

As we were chatting outside, my favorite “non-client” was coming to see it. It is such a small world sometimes. Luckily no one was hurt in the fire. We were having so much fun, it was a blast, that I felt guilty and asked a neighbor, and they assured me no one was hurt during the fire. So we partied on!

You can’t tell from the outside that there was a fire, but the inside is worth seeing. I’m not sure if someone will gut this and remodel it, or just tear it down and build a new one. Investor types should go over and take a look. Not sure what the lot value is over there, but it’s a great location. Too much for my new clients or my favorite “non-client” to handle…but one of you might be interested. Owner’s number is on the sign out front and the place is open for inspection, but be careful, some of the floor boards are pretty soft and there’s a lot of soot to wade through. Don’t wear your best shoes.

Craigslist expands

For those agents that are “paying for the privilege of marginalization,” Craigslist expanded to 100 new cities last week. Only selected agents in New York will actually be paying: in tandem with their expansion, they are charging New York City appartment brokers $10 per listing.

Craigslist is a pretty incredible business – they are so focussed on user experience that fees are only implemented when a section gets too many repeat posts or gets too spammy for Craig, now a full time customer service rep, to keep a lid on. There was a great interview with CEO Jim Buckmaster in the WSJ on Saturday. Here’s a choice quote that sums up their business philosophy:

It’s unrealistic to say, but — imagine our entire U.S. workforce deployed in units of 20. Each unit of 20 is running a business that tens of millions of people are getting enormous amounts of value out of each month. What kind of world would that be?”

Our Home is Now Listed!

And despite the fact that we may not have Ardell’s magic open house touch, we are showing it on Sunday between 12 and 3PM as described in the open house listing on Trumba.


I also created an adword campaign around our home. If you see the following ad while surfing the web, don’t click on it because it costs me money and just takes you to this blog post! 🙂

Funny side note… I decided to try out Google’s option to target ads at specific websites and noticed that Zillow was on the list for real estate related sites. However, in order to see the ad for my home on Zillow, I had to disable the one-two punch of Adblock and Filter.G on my Firefox browser. By disabling these two extensions, so many websites that I visit on a regular basis looked so much uglier! It was like traveling the web naked! It you’re not using the firefox browser with these two extensions, then you are almost definitely surfing a web that looks much more annoying than mine!

Interesting, not-so-nice Craig’s List practical joke

Anytime you see a house listed FSBO at over $200K below market you gotta wonder what’s going on. This particular one on Craig’s list was just down the street from my home so I decided to take a look.

$307000 – 4 bedroom fhouse or sale by owner

4 bed 2 bath completely remodeled inside in desireable redmond location for sale by owner.this lovely split level home is located within walking distance of lake sammamish ,parks,and schools in a secluded neighborhood!

Serious buyers only!

I will be holding an open house friday through sunday 7am-8pm if im not there my wife will be so feel free to stop by and have some cookies and a mocha 🙂

please do not email i rarely check it

These poor owners had people knocking on thier door all weekend thanks to someone’s idea of a practical joke. Open posting options like Craig’s List, Google and others are free and get great exposure, they are also prone to abuse. As the man said “If it sounds too good to be true…”