Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Real Estate Databases in Action

OK, before I go on any further, let's take a look at some real estate databases in action. Nowadays, all databases are online, so basically we are talking about websites here.

One of the best known is Loopnet. Loopnet specialize in commercial real estate in North America. As far as I can tell, their geographical database in the US is two-tier, STATE and LOCALITY, and counties (or boroughs or parishes) are ignored. User discretion drives the bulk of categorization decisions, it seems. It seems to have worked well for Loopnet.

Then there is Trulia. The interesting thing about Trulia is that created an interconnected database, which pipes queries to broker-owned websites, rather than including everything in their own database. Frankly I am amazed this worked, but I must say they have done a fantastic job. This architectural feature impedes rapid growth, as new brokers cannot be listed instantly (I assume) but it sure hasn't dented Trulia's growth. In the long run, this model could prove to be the most efficient and elegant of all systems.

Next, often mentioned in the same breath as Trulia, is Zillow, who started out as a home valuation (assessment) site. Now they offer listings. Judging from blog comments across the Internet, it would seem that Zillow's inherent role in the marketplace, whether intentional or not, is to cut out brokers, and allow direct buyer/seller contacts. This model has worked in the transportation industry - airlines now sell tickets to passengers rather than via travel agents. But will it work in the real estate industry?

Rounding out the big four is Point2, or homes.point2.com, a Canadian outfit which started out as a broker of heavy machinery. They have been growing quickly thanks to good site design, superb SEO, and global reach. For some reason Point2 are mentioned less often than Trulia, Zillow, etc. I have yet to figure out why this is.

In addition, there are a gazillion regional MLS (Multiple Listing Services) which are pretty crummy in terms of functionality. In fact, you could say that almost all of them do not even work. This is probably because in terms of background, these are the equivalent of Soviet collective farms. Those that do work are proprietary systems offered by individual brokerages. The best come close to Trulia and Loopnet but are hindered by their limited geographical scope.

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