Yahoo Tries for Web 2.0 Real Estate Listings, But Only Gets to 1.5 at Best
To date, real estate agents have managed to avoid the fate of travel agents. Prior to the Internet, travel agents made a goodly portion of their living from access to restricted information: schedules and prices for airlines, hotels, and the like. Once that information came online, once the rigid links between agency and information came undone, travel agencies underwent a decline. It's a pity, actually; after my last trip and all the time I spent wading through web sites that only pretended to provide travel information, I often wished for a competent travel agent. The only bright spot was Kayak, which has a superb interface.
But the web is not a perfect substitute for the travel agent. Even with the best web interfaces, if your flight is delayed and all you have is a cell phone, you're essentially out of luck; re-jiggering your arrangements often requires human intervention. Travel agents do have a niche, just like any expert, but I haven't seen many that have managed to extract their core expertise (familiarity with the travel business) out of the all the other trappings of the industry to create a new model for the travel agent business.
Which brings us to the real estate market. Yahoo just announced an expanded online real estate listings. Real estate agents need not worry: I've tried the service and it's fairly worthless. It has some of the trappings of a Web 2.0 site, but it feels more like Web 1.5, or perhaps even Web 0.5.
A quick search near my home produces over three hundred listings, which is pointless unless I can sort them in some acceptable fashion. But Yahoo ignores the three most important things in real estate: Location, Location, Location. The finest-grain location search criteria Yahoo provides is the zip code, which is a very crude tool indeed when related to my own criteria, namely proximity to a particular location such as an intersection, street address, or neighborhood. The search page is odd-looking and cluttered, and produces tiny maps by default. I'm limited to displaying ten items per page, not much use when the search returns three hundred listings. I can think of a half-dozen improvements to the interface without too much trouble, and I have to wonder what they were thinking when they created it.
In other words, Yahoo has eliminated crucial information instead of disaggregating it to make it more useful. They do allow you to limit a search to a particular price range or the number of bedrooms in the house; but that's not as important as location. And they limit searches by "kind" of listing, e.g., you can find items that are listed because of foreclosure (and receive highly limited and inaccurate information about those listings) but only on a separate search. Why they impose this restriction is beyond me; I suspect it's business related because of data partner relationships, but they've let the seams between the businesses show, which is rarely a good idea.
I expect other companies to step into the business to provide the disaggregation and interfaces that Yahoo has failed to supply. Despite the hype about dominating the Web, better customer service and a smarter business model can let even the smallest company challenge the giants.
Topics: · business · web
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