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An embarrassment of riches

December 14th, 2006 · 2 Comments

It just kind of happened this way, but I’ve been fortunate in the last couple of days to meet some of the most interesting folks in online real estate: Marlow Harris (360 Digest), Ardell Dellaloggia (Rain City Guide and Searchingseattle), David Gibbons (Zillow), and Kevin Connor from Docusign. — all of them up in Seattle. Yesterday, back in the Bay Rea, I had the opportunity to meet Travis Chow and Steve Schmidt from Neighboroo, as well as Pete Flint from Trulia.

I have write-ups on both Docusign and Neighboroo in the works, but for now let’s talk about Trulia.

Housed in classic San Francisco start-up open-plan style, Trulia’s ~30 employees definitelyimg_0230-cropped-small.JPG enjoy themselves — except when Pete Flint asks for volunteers to don the Trulia mascot. Can’t say I blame them — it does look rather uncomfortable, and I’d certainly rather be building the next refinement to Trulia’s offerings than humoring a curious visiting real estate blogger!

Trulia is really doing an exceptional job of trying to figure out how to improve the online experience for real estate consumers and how to win over real estate professionals to advertise. The latter is a particularly delicate balancing act, since our industry tends to be leery of technologists who stray onto our turf. Trulia has made nice with Realtors by providing neat tools for FREE such as a Trulia search box, home roll, free data upload feeds, and a Trulia Map. Unlike some aggregators, Trulia has built formal relationships with with many brokers across the country. A testament to Trulia’s Realtor PR is that a number of industry power hitters now sit on a recently-created Trulia advisory board.

Though Trulia concentrates on listings, it does have a fairly comprehensive database of other homes, a la Zillow. Unlike Zillow, however, these homes are not front and center; rather, Trulia’s site displays them only in the context of being near and similar to listings of interest, allowing the consumer to draw his own conclusions about value. Trulia does not appear to have a “T-estimate” up its sleeve.

How can Trulia display sold listings when that’s against the longstanding rules of most MLS’s in the country? (Note: our local MLS, and, I believe, the NWMLS, recently changed that policy.) Simple: Trulia is not a member of any MLS, so it’s not bound by the same silly rules. It gets its listing information from its Realtor partners, and its sold homes data from county records, via a third party.

The flip side of the advantage of not being beholden to MLS laws, however, is not having access to all the listing data…and therein lies Trulia’s “chicken and egg” problem, one common to online real estate sites. Trulia doesn’t — and can’t — have all the listings because it’s not an MLS member, and because it doesn’t have all the listings, it’s not as attractive a destination for consumers…which in turn makes it less attractive for Realtors to partner.

Pete’s response on this is that while MLS’s may have all the listings, “they certainly haven’t won the battle for consumer attention. Because Trulia offers consumers a way to understand real estate trends in a way that others don’t, I’d argue that we’re more of an attractive destination [than the traditional MLS], particularly with 80% of consumers looking online in their search.”

Pete notes, however, that though Trulia only has about 50% of the listings nation-wide that Realtor.com has, its inventory is steadily growing as it attracts more Realtor partners. He also points out that “according to Comscore, we are the fastest growing online real estate site in the US with over 25% month-on-month growth over the last 6 months.” If that growth continues, it may reach a tipping point where it has enough inventory to attract the eyeballs to attract the Realtors to contribute more listings.

Pete and I and product manager Megan Kamil brainstormed about what the ultimate real estate mash-up might look like. I’ll save that discussion for a future post.

Trulians — best of luck to you all, and thanks for having me over!

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Tags: Docusign · Neighboroo · Pete Flint · Real estate · Realtor.com · Travis Chow · Trulia · Zillow