Thursday, 23 July 2009

Hannells Estate Agent -v-

The scraping issues we raised a while ago refuses to go away and now Hannells Estate Agents is allegedly 'poised' to commence proceedings against so reports estateagenttoday.

There are a growing number of comments appearing on the estateagenttoday forum ranging from support to the usual let's get rid of rightmove type, but it is certainly a matter worthy of debate.

I am not sure I can expand upon my earlier post other than to say this matter should never get to a Court and really ought to have been handled better by if what was reported as being said by is true.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Globrix gets a face lift

Globrix has a new home page and some other new goodies inside.

Constructive criticism is always of use and my humble comments are below.

Moving from a google style search page to what I would call a more traditional based home page requires going back to basics a little. It requires a review of basic usability issues and navigation.

Look at Zillow and Trulia in the States and they both have traditional layouts, with tabs and sub menus together with the larger search box. New boys Zoopla also adopt this style and I believe one needs to adopt one or the other, i.e. google style search no clutter (Nestoria) or search and traditional navigation/usability features.

To this end, I would very respectfully suggest the following:

1. I feel that tabs/menu option ought to have been introduced. It feels as if the information presented is in unfamiliar areas and not following basic usability/navigation principles and will thus confuse the poor old user.

2. I love the 'Know' feature, but why not call it something the user may understand and then join it to the Buy.Sell buttons which are now arguably part of the brand. Does this need a sub menu to ensure the user can find what he or she is searching (comments above apply)? Is this branding more brand than functionality? I have said before the Buy.Sell buttons look nice, but do they work? Why would I click on 'Know'? As a new or infrequent user there is a danger I would see this as just part of the logo/brand.

3. Although I am a bit of a large text fanatic, the text below the search box is way too small on my screen.

Looking inside there are some other goodies.

Property details pages have been updated and provide a host of goodies for the user, namely house sale prices, property sold in the month, trends in that area etc etc. Not all properties have this feature and I am not sure whether it is a paid for addition (i.e. featured listing) or whether it is the agents choice, I suspect the former. Although a paid for service, the details page is better than many agents' websites and therefore a much more attractive option for the user and well worth considering.

One small niggling point is the details page allows other agents to advertise on that page (sponsored agents). The actual agent selling the property is not clear and this will confuse the user.

Now I love the guys and girls at Globrix and I love to see new developments, new functionality and look forward to seeing, iphone apps and all the other goodies. The above is by no means negative, on the contrary it is positive criticism and those in the know, will know! Ahha, maybe 'Know' is part of an advertising strategy?!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tepilo - agents listing on the site?

Further to my earlier mentions about Sarah Beeny's site, Tepilo, I thought I would have a quick look to see how she is getting on.

I was viewing a property in North London and wondered whether this was the work of a bona fide seller or the work of an agent. Well, what do you know, the same property with identical photos was for sale through Foxtons, appearing on their site and Rightmove and no doubt other portals.

This begs the question: are Foxtons feeding property to the site, uploading property under the seller's name, merely advising the seller that they ought to be listed on as many portals as possible and encouraging them to undertake the upload process or is this just the owner's actions? Somehow I doubt the latter point and if Foxtons are uploading under the sellers name, doesn't this fly in the face of the principle behind Tepilo. If true then it surely doesn't bode well for Foxtons, but maybe it is all a ploy and they are only advertising their hooker stock!

If it is the owner thinking they can possible get away with the commission they would be wise to check their Foxtons' terms and conditions.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Zoopla buys

Is Zoopla buying all the portals and/or have they abandoned the PropertyFinder deal?

Zoopla announced that is has purchased for an undisclosed sum.

One, two or ten portal purchases, the real management challenge is integrating these portals and creating one dominant brand.

There are of course still too many portals and whilst this will increase traffic for Zoopla agents it leaves Zoopla with the headache of integration. Zoopla's acquisition strategy will have faced these issues and I suspect this is the long term plan to integrate front and back end systems and perhaps feeds, but just how long do Zoopla have to complete the task, will the task be complete only to find the market has changed? It is possible that after a two to three year acquisition and integration process the market will have changed. I have to say however that if the market is going to change then it will be towards the Trulia/Zoopla model and therefore this strategy would appear spot on.

That said, I do wonder whether Zoopla's strategy ought to be more focused on new technology rather than building a portfolio of portals. Perhaps it is as they are certainly not shy to innovate. Whatever the course they are steering they are the ones to watch.

Having a strategy to regularise property feeds would also be a marvellous idea and one that the industry as a whole should work towards, but this is another debate.

Anyway, all the above activity keeps us busy and I still think Zoopla needs to purchase another blog, know of one?!

Monday, 6 July 2009

All eyes on Google

I wrote a long time ago that the single largest threat for the property portal game was Google entering the space (not exactly ground breaking foresight, but I do like to remind some people!). Anyway, Google Base was around then, but now it is being widely reported that Google Australia has launched '... a new tool on its mapping service that will directly link buyers and renters to available property.

The Google Maps feature, which launched today in Australia and New Zealand, will host free listings supplied by real-estate agents and publishers.

Although many existing publishers and real-estate agents offer map-based searching, the maps on Google's new service will reflect real-time changes in search criteria and location...'

The corresponding blog post from google is of more interest: '...Increasingly, people are heading online when looking for a new house to rent or buy, and from today, we're adding the ability to search for properties on Google Maps. We've worked with partners across the real estate industry to provide up-to-date listings, which you can search for directly from the Google Maps search box.

You can check it out by entering a search like 'real estate crows nest' and clicking through to search real estate listings. A marker will appear on the map for every available listing, using our new search results feature, so you can get a really good idea of the distribution of the properties for sale or rent. This also means you can perform a search and see all the properties for sale close to, for example, a local school you're interested in your kids attending. You can click on each marker and each small circle to get more detailed information about the property, including the listing agent's website and contact details...'

My emphasis on working with partners, but the rest of the blurb sounds like common 'we are a portal' blurb. Video and street view all in their as well so arguably shaping up to become a rather decent tool. The home page has the beginnings of a tasty page as well (below).

One obvious question for agents is, how the hell do I get my properties in at the top?! Well, if you have been loving google for the past years and developing your site accordingly (as I have mentioned on numerous occasions) you should be half way there, but you need to be feeding up to Google Base. How many agents do, I am not sure? Indeed, how many agents have actually recorded their business details and location with google, google maps etc?

There is also the opportunity to advertise on the actual map result page creating more ppc options. If I were an agent I would certainly capitalise on this aspect and ensure that if my properties were not popping up then my ppc/ads were coming up in the right areas.

The end of portals? I doubt it. More like an opportunity for all to integrate with and utilise more of the google service.

Will Google's 'partners' monoplise this service? Discussions have already begun over at JRA.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Scraping - singled out

The Negotiator opens discussion on what lawyers will no doubt describe as a grey area. is accused by one agent as mis-marketing that agent's property details. These details have been acquired through the process of scraping or to give it the politicians title 'indexing'.

The argument goes something along the lines of: if, as an agent, your properties are scraped daily then there ought to be little to complain about, it is free marketing after all. But, if your properties are infrequently scraped, poorly scraped and thus displaying incorrect data there is a problem.

The USA has seen its share of these issues with some of the heavyweight real estate portals/search engines scraping/indexing properties. It has led one of the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) to issue some guidance on the issue.

Put simply, the MLS defines the practices of what it calls 'benign' scraping and 'malicious' scraping. '...benign if they provide intended benefits to the consumer and the buyers and sellers whom the REALTOR® serves, and are not in conflict with the MLS Policy. They are deemed malicious if they utilize the listing data in a manner foreign to the original intent of the REALTOR® and the property owner, and are incompatible with the MLS Policy. The practice of “scraping” or “indexing” by search engines for the purpose of displaying or indexing the data for consumer property search, and which ultimately direct the consumer back to its source, is benign, and is in sync with the REALTOR’S® intention when displaying listings on the Internet. When a third party, e.g. a search engine, through “scraping” or “indexing” misappropriates and uses the listing data for purposes not intended by the property owner or REALTOR® , these practices become malicious and should be prohibited...'

Quite obviously you cannot cannot level the charge of malicious scraping against as it refers the user back to the original source, i.e. the agent and the killer line here is what was '...the original intent of the Realtor ... when displaying listings on the Internet...'.

So really we need to add another category of negligent scraping. Indeed, if search engines/portals are scraping then surely they have a duty to ensure that information is accurate and updated frequently, I would say at the very least daily. It is no defence to fall back on the free marketing argument if the information being displayed is incorrect.

In a nutshell, there is no legal grey area, it is black and white really - it is basic copyright infringement. But with so many adopting this practice it has become acceptable (and indeed profitable) when search engines/portals get it right.

If agents still do not want any intrusion from search engines (and you have to agree that you would be mad not to) they can very simply insert a line of code to go into their website to prevent any search engine indexing/scraping their site. Pointless moaning about it, if you don't like it, turn it off!