Since Google first began adding real estate listings to Google Maps in mid-2009, the world of online real estate has been monitoring the company's every move. Each upgrade brought more speculation on how Google was planning to change things for property portals, real estate agents, and property hunters.
Now, we have a clearer idea of where Google is headed.
At a Sydney press conference today, Google revealed what it described as its "vision for working with the real estate industry". That vision involves, among other things, a marketing partnership with one of Australia's most well known real estate agencies: LJ Hooker.
This new marketing push will see physical representations of the Google Maps "pins" appearing across 16 Sydney locations, from shopping centres to cinemas and even on Bondi Beach. Google says the co-branded pins are meant to encourage more Australians to head online to begin their real estate search, but with 87 percent of the population already doing so according to Nielsen, it's clear this is a push to get Australians thinking "Google" when they think of online real estate.
Karim Temsamani, general manager of Google Australia and New Zealand, said today that Google Maps now links over 1,000 real estate websites across Australia and New Zealand. Along with LJ Hooker, Google also includes Ray White, First National and Century 21 amongst these partners, as well as smaller portals such as homehound.com.au and myhome.com.au. As pleased as Google seems to be with these partnerships, one big question remains: what of Australia's market leader, realestate.com.au, and the number two player domain.com.au?
When quizzed about the relationship with the two portals, Andrew Foster, product manager for real estate search on Google Maps, remained diplomatic. "We're happy to take listings from anyone," he said, while confirming that there is currently no arrangement to take listings from either portal. "At this stage they're choosing not to provide listings," he said.
"We're not sitting back and waiting for large providers," Foster continued, emphasising that Google's coverage is "diverse and comprehensive", and that there is "genuine enthusiasm to be seen on Google" from the real estate industry.
Foster's demonstration of the full extent of real estate search on Google Maps showed some possible reasons for that enthusiasm. Beginning with a simple keyword search for real estate in a certain area, users can now choose to refine their results further by layering results from other Maps searches, ending with a map that shows not only listings but also nearby restaurants and cafes, schools, businesses, and estimated transit times from place to place.
Clicking on any of the pins on this map will takes users to a Place Page, where they can find even more detailed information about a property. Photos, inspection times, floor plans, and videos from YouTube can all be included, along with Google's Street View, which is currently being updated for Australia and New Zealand.
The Place Page is also where Google addresses the issue of multiple sources for a listing. Under the property's details, a list of the sources is provided, so users can choose to find more information from the agency's website, or go to the relevant property portal to continue searching.
google.com.au/realestatetools is another part of the push towards real estate agents. This is where Google is aiming to "cut through the clutter" and present real estate agents with all the Google tools it thinks could be useful. Needless to say, Maps is included, as are AdWords and YouTube.
Today's announcements were all focused on the Australian and New Zealand markets, and Foster said there was nothing to announce in terms of real estate search on UK Google Maps or elsewhere. But if this latest push manages to draw in Australian and New Zealand property hunters, we're guessing it will only be a matter of time before Google Maps real estate search gains momentum overseas as well.