A Financial Times report on Google’s plans for online property search in the UK seems to have worried the market.
The report, posted on 2 December at 23:17, begins:
“Google is in talks with British estate agents to launch an online property portal, which experts say could pose a serious threat to existing property websites and local newspapers.”
Financial Times figures have Rightmove’s share price down 10.33 percent as of 16:35 on 3 December.
The report refers to the 2010 release of a “portal” similar to the Google Maps service seen in Australia and the US. As we reported earlier, Google recently highlighted its real estate layer on maps.google.com and maps.google.com.au, and made listings available through a keyword search for “real estate”.
At the time of the keyword search release, we reported that a search for “real estate” on maps.google.co.uk presented users with real estate listings, however this no longer seems to be the case. It is still possible to view real estate listings for the UK through maps.google.com, with most coming from homes24.co.uk and home.co.uk.
So, what does rightmove.co.uk make of the situation? Ed Williams, rightmove.co.uk’s managing director, told the Financial Times he wasn’t concerned agents would leave the leading UK portal for Google:
“We provide visibility of brand and logo. Agents are spending money on raising brand awareness, not getting more properties online.”
As Renthusiast reports, rightmove.co.uk’s commercial director Miles Shipside later released a statement echoing Williams’ lack of concern:
“As a pure search engine, Google’s offering would appear to differ to the full service we have established for home-hunters, potential vendors and agents in the UK market. This can be seen in the property site that Google have already launched in Australia.
Google is pre-eminent as a way of searching for information. But when people know what they want, and want to source quality information that is clearly presented, they turn to websites such as Amazon for books and CD’s, Ebay for auctioned collectibles, Autotrader for cars and Rightmove for property. There is no conflict between what these sites do and what Google does.
Large organisations have attempted to enter the online property market in the past. Earlier this week News International sold up their shares in a property website they bought into in 2004.
Should any announcement be made by Google, we are confident that home-hunters and agents alike will continue to see the value in Rightmove’s usability and quality services.”
Google itself doesn’t seem to be treating the Financial Times report particularly seriously, with a spokesperson telling estateagent.co.uk: “We do not comment on rumour and speculation.”
Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the UK’s National Association of Estate Agents, told estateagent.co.uk he is watching Google’s moves with interest:
“I am aware of what Google has been doing in Australia and the US. I have talked to estate agents there and been keeping an eye on the situation. There had been fears that there would be an effect on the market in terms of private sellers, but I am told this has not happened.
It is an interesting model, and of course it is free. For agents, there are potentially some very interesting opportunities. As far as our own site PropertyLive is concerned, we are looking at all the options open to us.”
zoopla.co.uk CEO Alex Chesterman has also weighed in, emphasising the importance of Google to his business:
“Google is an extremely important start point in the consumer web journey and therefore we watch with great interest anything they do. Google helps online users find relevant content and zoopla.co.uk is the UK's leading property market resource combining property listings together with current home values, sold house prices, local information and a variety of tools to help consumers make better property decisions.
Google is a key partner in our business today with its free search results and paid search ads and far from seeing their entry into the property space as a threat, we believe it provides an opportunity to generate even greater levels of traffic to our content and more exposure and leads for our member agents.”
Finally, Dominic Toller, the managing director of “chain free” and repossessions portal propertyearth.net, doesn’t think Google’s moves will affect smaller portals:
“It is interesting how quickly the portal market continues to change. The entrance of Google into the UK property portal market will threaten the hold of rightmove.co.uk and the large whole of market portals, but shouldn't affect the smaller, more specialised providers. Smaller portals serving dedicated, niche markets will certainly still have a place under the introduction of this new technology.”