Google has offered the capacity to search real estate listings for a long time. For example, when entering queries such as “homes for sale in San Francisco,” a “one box” result used to show pull-down menus for “location” and “listing type.” Activating these boxes would then lead into a specialized “Google Base” screen that allowed for further refinement. I found those screens as recently as earlier this week but today couldn’t duplicate them. However, earlier this week Google exposed a “real estate” filter, among others, on Maps.
A search in my old San Francisco zip 94118 shows these listings when the “real estate” filter is invoked:
There’s a somewhat more helpful “text view” of this same data:
Google, in the text view, also offers some refinements: by price, bedrooms, and bathrooms. These appear to be successive, meaning that they build upon one another.
The data are apparently coming via Google Base through a range of sources. But they’re not comprehensive, which is important in the real estate context. However, if Google were to do deals with the various sources of MLS data around the US, it could build a fairly comprehensive listings database. That might make it more competitive with vertical search engines and real estate sites such as Trulia, Zillow, Yahoo Real Estate, Move.com, and so on. By comparison to most of those sites, Google’s real estate search and overall experience in this category is rather “skeletal” at the moment.
When entrepreneurs are pitching a new startup idea or prototype to venture capital, the perfunctory question often arises: “Why wouldn’t Google do this?” In the vertical context it’s typically the case that Google won’t go to the lengths of others to build a specific vertical experience (there are some exceptions). The imperative for Google is to scale its applications globally — and that is often at odds with developing rich content and community around a particular subject area.
It is possible, however, with several tweaks and improvements, that real estate search on Google could get much better and become much more competitive over time.