Real estate agents and companies can glean a great deal from observing cutting edge digital companies like Google. This goes without saying, but is often overlooked by even savvy Realtors. Of note, week before last Google announced their discontinuing of listings for real estate on Google maps. The real estate feature of Google Maps will go the way of the dodo on February 10th. Has Google given up and walked away from online real estate? Not likely.
Google's Lat Long Blog offers the announcement, and the reasoning behind the decision. On the face of it, Google just figured out people do not use the map search feature for real estate so much, and decided to drop it. Using their terminology:
"In part due to low usage, the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites, and the infrastructure challenge posed by the impending retirement of the Google Base API, we’ve decided to discontinue the real estate feature within Google Maps on February 10, 2011."
Matthew Ferrara, one of the world's foremost digital experts where real estate meets the web, does a good job of outlining the story here. While Ferrara suggests this action by Google is purely good business research (which it is), we do not think this is the end of the Google Maps real estate story. Matthew sums up what happened in this way:
"In other words, Google saw that a) consumers didn’t search for real estate on maps and b) consumers did use other ways to find real estate online."
Of course Ferrara is spot on here, as well as in his suggestion that real estate peeps learn from what is happening before their eyes. Ferrara shines the light of reality on the ongoing folly of depending on newspapers ads for sales - and our own discoveries of real estate professionals still in the stone age was just the tip of a huge iceberg.
But Ferrara's only mistake (if any) was in failing to at least speculate on Google's next move. He alludes to the fact some believe the search giant has secret plans, but discounts this possibility out of hand.
"Some pundits are wondering “why” Google would stop mapping real estate ads. They imagine Google has some secret plan or new application on the horizon. Actually, I’d say Google’s reason is plain and simple: They didn’t become one of most productive companies in history by perpetuating mistakes or ignoring facts. Real estate ads will disappear from maps because customers simply didn’t search for them."
But there is another possibility. Google's entry into the travel space should serve as a sign the company has designs on anything and everything that concerns A - the Internet, and B - monetization of it. And unless global real estate players are about ready to fork over millions in adwords revenue like Expedia and the other travel players, Google's piece of the "real estate pie" will be negligible. and the travel industry has shown something else too - that Google's relationships with adwords and other advertisers/affiliates can cause huge problems when the want to enter a market. The Google ITA situation is the perfect case in point.
Fast forward a bit to the happenstance where Google uses Google Places and proprietary search data etc. to offer real estate tools of immense capability. I know you don't often take the time to think about this, but imagine how Google plus the consumer on either end of the sale, could do your job better. Uh oh. But for the moment, let's not panic if we are real estate brokers or even travel agents. There will always be a place for the shoe leather.
It is interesting that even cutting edge real estate players like The Property Owl only consider Google's actions as a sort of failed effort. Maybe everyone else is right and our sense of this news is wrong, but Google does not just generally test markets like this, or am I wrong? It just seems logical that ending real estate integration with maps may have been suggested by recent travel dealings. That's all.
A more likely scenario is hinted at if one reads between the lines of Steven Matthews' article on the news. He, nearly everyone, assumes Google just up and quit the real estate game. But knowingly, or unknowingly Matthews touched on a key component if Google wants into the real estate game big time (and surely they do). Google may have assumed agents and companies would fill their data set indexes full when they entered via maps - but it did not happen.
Now - assuming some other "experts" are correct, Google may just "acquire" their way into this "real estate data mine." Good advice might be to expect Brian McClendon (upper left, previous paragraph), VP, Google Earth and Maps, to make another announcement this Summer about Google and real estate.
And this my friends leaves my theory holding some water. Who knows, maybe Google will just sell agents leads? More later.