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Thinking about Real Estate Search: Have the Portals Already Won?

search-homesThere was a lot of talk last week about search last week in New York at Inman Connect. From my discussions (both at the conference and recent offline conversations I’ve had over phone/email), the overwhelming majority of agents and brokers do not plan to try to compete in the search game with the portals (Zillow/Trulia/ And certainly not in the mobile search game.

Here is the search landscape we live in, as I see it…

1. A “decent” web search is the cost of doing business in 2014. If your search experience looks like the one Rob embedded in his post, go fix it.


Spend the money for Diverse Solutions, Real Geeks, Displet, or another IDX provider (see prior discussion about the best IDX providers) and bring your search into the 21st century.

2. There is room for Agents/Brokers in Web search. Sam is right; the volume that an agent or broker needs to generate is puny compared to the portals. The challenge I see, long term, is that eventually, web search will need to be connected to some sort of native mobile experience. That aspect will not be cheap, or easy, to build.

3. We live in a mobile world. You’re living under a rock if you don’t believe that mobile is a game changer. Every mobile adoption chart you see leads up and to the right, and it’s not slowing down. Consumer eyeballs are shifting, and if you want to reach them, you need to as well.

4. Building great mobile products is a lot harder than web. Had problems with website vendors & systems over the past 10 years? Expect the pains with building for a mobile world to be worse.

5. Building great consumer products is not a broker’s (or agent’s) core competency. Brokers and agents sell homes. Not build websites.

6. Zillow, Trulia, (& Redfin) are dominating the market. And their lead is only growing.

7. Mobile Distribution is Insanely Hard. We’re already at “app overload”. And with every new app in the app store, consumer app fatigue grows.

All that said, does that mean the industry should just hand search on a silver platter to the portals?


There is room to innovate both in lifestyle, personalization, and with hyper local market specificity.

I’m on record saying that bringing the agent into the search experience, in real time, is the next major innovation we’ll see in search. I’ve yet to see the right product, and the right product will certainly take some serious money and product vision to pull off. An agent or broker won’t build this. A franchise, or innovative tech vendor might. A portal most definitely can.

So, the ultimate question is, do you compete or do you cede search entirely over to the portals?

My answer is dependent on what role you play in the industry:

  • Agents: Cede search entirely, and use one of the IDX vendors listed here. Don’t worry about mobile.
  • Brokers: Cede mobile search, invest in a good web search, and plan for an integration of an Agentfolio-like mobile experience for your clients down the line.
  • Franchises: Nail the web search experience. Remember, less is more – just get the user to listings as quickly as physically possible, not go overboard with filters and options. Think long and hard about your unique differentiator in mobile. It’s not a game you should give up on entirely; you need to figure out how to get onto a buyers mobile phone to keep them in your network. But getting onto your clients’ phones may not be via search at all.

What’s your answer?

I understand I have a different view on this topic than a practicing agent or broker. I sincerely hope Sam writes a follow up to this piece from a broker’s perspective.

[Graphic via]

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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