Next steps for online real estate?

Buying a house is one of the biggest decisions that someone can make these days. It’s a life-transforming step, regardless of whether the new home is a few miles away, or across the country. And it’s one of the largest purchases many people can make.

There are some new looks to sites that focus on real estate lately. And a lot of information that was only available to real estate agents is being shared with people looking for homes.

If you haven’t seen zillow.com, which allows you to look at maps of locations, and find houses that are for sale in those regions, you’ve missed out on a fun and interesting new mashup of mapping and data integration. Within the last day or so, news of Google showing real estate listings has also come out, though those are shown through the Google Base service from the company, rather than as a separate and new listing service.

TechCrunch noted a week ago that Zillow has some competition in the mapping and display of homes for sale, in the shape of RealEstateABC. It’s kind of fun to look around these sites, and see what might be for sale around you. I wonder how helpful these tools are to people looking for homes.

Another service that lists real estate, but doesn’t provide the map views of Zillow and RealEstateABC, is PropertyShark. It has a more limited range of homes listed than the other two, but I was surprised by the amount of information that it showed for one home that I searched for, and the houses that surrounded it.

Chances are that Zillow will earn money by showing advertisements from partners like Google, and sales listings of homes from real estate companies. There’s talk of how the company will earn income, and how it sees itself alongside its competitors, in a February article from the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which discussed the company with founder Rich Barton.

So, what’s a real estate company to do, when faced with this type of innovation in the market?

Instead of a view from above, we may start seeing properties from the ground level, and the neighborhoods that surround them as well. A real estate news letter from last year predicts that most online real estate offices will offer online video within the next three years.

One of the companies that they mention providing such videos is Real Data Center, which is working on building “a drive-by database of the U.S. residential real estate market – videos of not just the houses, but also the streets and the whole area.” Real Data Center, armed with an address provided by a real estate agent or broker, will create a video tour of the home, the street it is on, and the neighborhood where it is located. And, they aren’t the only ones offering this service.

The founder of the company has filed a patent application for the process, and it was published earlier today:

Apparatus and method for producing video drive-by data corresponding to a geographic location

Here’s the abstract:

A system and method of providing video drive-by data is provided to enable a street level view of a neighborhood surrounding a selected geographic location. The system includes a video and data server farm incorporation at least one video storage server that stores video image files containing video drive-by data that corresponds to a geographic location, a database server that processes a data query received from a user over the Internet that corresponds to a geographic location of interest, and an image processing server. In operation, the database server identifies video image files stored in the video storage server that correspond to the geographic location of interest contained in the data query, and transfers the video image files over a pre-processing network to the image processing server. The image processing server converts the video drive-by data to post processed video data corresponding to a desired image format, and transfers the post processed video data via post-processing network to the Internet response to the query.

Finding out about homes for sale online is a rapidly transforming experience. I expect that we will see sites like Zillow bundling more services, or at least advertising, around industries that are related to the purchase or sales of homes, such as title searchers, property assessors, movers, construction contractors, lendors, and many others.

12 thoughts on “Next steps for online real estate?”

  1. If you can find that neighborhood, let me know.

    I tried to stay away from the privacy issues involved in these services – the post would have been a lot longer if I veered off in that direction.

    But I think there are some. A lot of information that was public, but difficult to access, is becoming much easier to locate. I guess some of those videos might capture the neighbors picking up the paper in their pj’s or less.

  2. Drive-by-data videos? Will I now be able to move to an area where my neighbor’s dont grab the morning paper wearing nothing but boxers?

  3. Zillow’s popularity has grown tremendously. A big reason people go back to the site is the Google map technology.

    I just came across your article and it is obviously a few years old. I am surprised that I have not heard about Real Data Center. This sounds like a terrific technology that many would enjoy utilizing.

  4. Absolutely, Bill.

    Real Estate isn’t alone in that – the music and film and book publishing/sales industries have changed even more than real estate. At least a plot of land, a strong foundation, and some sturdy walls can’t be transformed into electronic versions and spread across the Web. 🙂

    The last time I moved, I learned a lot about the area that I was thinking of moving to before I ever visited in person. Real estate sites are now open 24/7 online, and I can see images of exteriors and interiors and even videos sometimes, before contacting an agent listing a home. I may also be able to use Google Maps to get a street view of neighborhoods and surrounding towns. Then there’s sites like Zillow that provide even more information.

    I wonder, has the Web made your work easier or harder (or some combination of both)?

  5. Overall I would say that it is easier Bill. An agent that has some online prowess can harness that power and get clients calling them without having to spend lots of money the more traditional ways like print media. Buyers are also more educated today which makes out job easier as well.

  6. Thanks Bill,

    I would think that the web has made it easier for real estate agents who take the time to learn what they can about the web. I would guess that’s true with a lot of other vocations as well.

  7. Cool technology keeps hitting the RE industry it just seems some guys are slow to adapt. I was working in Panama RE a few years back and the only way we had to market was online – our target was American Ex-pats and if our web presence wasn’t continually on top and in front of our market no one would ever make it down o see us!

  8. Hi Mark,

    There’s nothing like visiting a location in person, and seeing what a property might be like with your own eyes. I’d imagine that the Web had to be helpful in making a presentation to people who otherwise wouldn’t have visited Panama in person.

    I’d love to see some large-scale studies on the impact of different technologies on real estate sales.

  9. Thanks Bill. Yes, it would be interesting to see some data. You are so right about ‘seeing it with your own eyes’. The net and our web presence was merely a gateway to get people thinking about it. My strategy was and remains – build a strong relationship via e-mail and phone. Once the trust is achieved it’s time to ‘kick some dirt!’. It always amazed me the number of people I hear from who just buy ‘sight unseen’ over the net and then they’re surprised when the discover they purchased ‘swamp’ land or in the case of Panama either Mangrove or scorched earth farm land!

  10. Hi Mark,

    I’m going to have to search around to see if that kind of data might be available anywhere.

    The Web does open up opportunities to learn about distant places, and make some decisions, but I can’t imagine buying first and visiting later. I suspect that there are people who buy sight unseen after watching late night infomercials as well, and find they have a deed to land they wouldn’t have purchased if they stood on it before signing a contract.

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