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Real Estate Search – Google to Punk Your Local MLS? Is It Possible?

realestateThe headline

Google announces real estate search in New Zealand and Australia, and yes, offers agents a free opportunity to get home sellers’ listings into Google, offering increased traffic and exposure to your website.

Just a new tool or a valid threat?

The fact that it’s a tool lends to the possibility that it is a true threat to local MLSs, namely because once launched across the board in the US, APIs can be used to disintermediate the whole lot- in fact, your local IDX vendor could conceivably drop the lame rules of the local boards and simply work through Google- and why not?  It’s completely free to agents. It even appears that there is some serious exploration to featuring you and the property you’re listing!  Hello!  Can you say “first comprehensive national MLS”?  Google can.

The vacuum of skipping one middle man for the free, less hassle, better exposure, flexible APIs to work with that is Google seems likely to be a strategy that could work.  Once the listings are being captured in numbers over the allure of rankings and traffic, a fracture over lockbox use will surely surface as many independent brokers could essentially drop the high cost of participation of boards that just simply can’t/won’t advance, and will look for non-MLS controlled door lock solutions!

What about those APIs?

Yep!  Google is offering APIs to brokers and agents to automatically feed their listings to Google, and what does that mean?  No more entering the same data points over and over and over and over again!

But wait, there’s more!  Remember those IDX vendors I mentioned?  If you’re no longer cooperating with local brokers via the local board, then technically, the only listings you’ll need are your own, so why not just load that lovely Google API into your local real estate website and show ’em all listings plus your own?

Did I mention the tie in of your Google business listing and the possible ability to throw up a free single property website using Blogger?  OR how about the ability to connect with consumers via Google Profiles, and Google Connect?

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The picture is becoming more and more clear.

Oh yeah, it’s a threat, and a tool, ain’t it kick ass?!

There’s no real word on when this new disruption will reach the shores of the US, but I’m hearing sooner than later. And I’m sure you’re thinking, we just won’t work with Google, right?  Fine, tell your clients you won’t feed their listing to the world’s largest search engine, and watch them do it for you- like I said, it’s free, less of a hassle than you, and everyone says they can do it on their own anyway, right?

Where do Zillow and Trulia fit into all of this?  Simple- if and when ‘find an agent’ or ‘find a Realtor’ searches become really popular, I’m absolutely positive Zillow and Trulia will be the hit of the party!  After all, at the end of the day they’re essentially a feed of your listings, and the best they’ll offer is a repackaging of what can already be replicated using Google from what I’ve seen.

So, Did Google Scrape Your Listings? Nah, They Won’t Have to! Unless of course no agent or consumer in the entire country enters a single listing into Google- and that ain’t going to happen.

Is Google after your local business? You betcha.

But I think there is a possibility that Google sees some value in the real estate professional at least in the short term; why else would they entice you with better traffic and rankings? What Google really wants is more opportunities for you to advertise.  So advertising or not, avoiding it in the short term hurts you in the long term because your ability to adapt and change with the tide will depend on practice, trial and error.

What’s about to change?

  • IDX
  • Video
  • Property Portals
  • Brokerage splits
  • Forced adapted real estate business models
  • The local agent
  • Buyers agents
  • Classifieds (Craigslist type portals)
  • Newspaper real estate (the final blow)
  • Virtual tours
  • Local MLSs (boards and memberships)
  • Lockbox monopolies
  • Mobile Apps (an astounding surge)

Okay, so if all of this is true, what do you do?

The local MLS once upon a time controlled the starting point of the real estate search, then newspapers and media companies.  Everyone and their dog has attempted to circumvent this reality by living in denial that those 70 sum odd percent of real estate searches started online- okayfine.

In order for one’s business to succeed, one will certainly need to pull one’s head from the sand that the truth is, 70 plus percent of real estate searches begin with Google (and the search engines that will follow) and not the MLS- this is how Google is changing the game.

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If one can own this concept and begin to look at their business from the new starting line, then one has a shot at adapting- this includes local MLSs.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.



  1. Paula Henry

    July 6, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Benn – I read this earlier and thought – hmmm…..maybe, I won’t have to worry about my local board, but I bet there will be many agents worrying about what to do next. They feel they need the protection the local board offers them to secure their listings.

    Wake up and smell the coffee – the security blanket is being taken away – time to grow up; it’s the first day of kindergarten and if you don’t start learning a new way of doing business (which includes Google) (search engines)you may as well hang up the license and say good-by.

    This is probably the one thing which has the power to break the monopoly and restrictions local boards have. Still, many will fight it.

    Thanks for writing your viewpoint and providing some great insight.

  2. Jonathan Dalton

    July 6, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    I must be getting dumber with age. So the idea is I only need to feed to Google, or have an IDX company that does it for me, and I’ll be done?

  3. Erion Shehaj

    July 6, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Agents’ “needing the protection of the local board” reminds me of prostitutes needing the protection of a pimp. It’s a mirage, at best.

    Instead, we must review the new landscape and figure out a way to conquer it ourselves.

  4. Paula Henry

    July 6, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Oh Jonathan – you know it won’t be that easy. The problem with technology is, it is ever changing and next week it will be something new.

  5. Dan Connolly

    July 6, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Didn’t Google already try that and fail with Google Base? The problem with the national IDX is that real estate is local and a bunch of Geeks in the Googleplex will never be able to organize the data in a way that makes sense universally to local residents across the country.

    The home buyers will always need the local expert who knows the schools, the neighborhoods, the local loan programs, the zoning regulations and the location of the sewage treatment plant that hasn’t been built yet.

  6. Benn Rosales

    July 6, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Hey Dan, (no sarcasm here)

    This isn’t Base, This is actually Google maps which is part of Googles front page offering (in the menu, not in labs), meaning traffic. Base may have been the actual beta.

    but I agree that execution is everything, Google has a habit of doodling- but that doesn’t mean they’re doing it this time- it’s rolled out. and for the record, I actually said Google sees a use for agents- right about the middle of the post.

    You said
    “The home buyers will always need the local expert who knows the schools, the neighborhoods, the local loan programs, the zoning regulations and the location of the sewage treatment plant that hasn’t been built yet.”

    So, which one of these can I not find with a Google search? This goes back to being the result, and understanding where search begins- it isn’t the MLS…

  7. Jonathan Dalton

    July 7, 2009 at 12:08 am

    Paula – there’s something ironic about you using the phrase “local board” and “protection” in the same sentence

  8. Ruthmarie Hicks

    July 7, 2009 at 2:12 am

    The value of the local agent is pretty obvious if you do a little exercise that I did. Go to a part of the country that you know nothing about. Pretend you are going to buy a home and start an investigation using IDX. Even if you have total access to the brokers MLS – there is a lot that needs to be pulled together – particularly if you are unfamiliar with the area.

    I agree that there will be many FEWER agents – but I don’t think the need for the local agent will ever truly be eliminated. I don’t think its doable or even desirable for buyers and sellers a like.

    As for being “protected” by your local board – that’s an oxymoron….

  9. Benjamin Ficker

    July 7, 2009 at 2:20 am

    I still don’t see how this negatively affects agents. We already have the listings all over the place. I’ve worked with buyers who found a home on another agents site. I just see new opportunities to market my listings. Google isn’t threatening to take away the need for agents, like Benn said they are looking for another place to put ads.

  10. Benjamin Ficker

    July 7, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Oops, forgot to subscribe.

  11. Jim Duncan

    July 7, 2009 at 6:31 am

    It’s a game changer, but it’s not a game-ender. Agents still need to be able to place the results in context. What is the history of the neighborhood? What might be built adjacent to it? What are the chances of this house being redistricted?

    Google can help with a lot of questions and answers, but it’s still a computer. I’ve said for years that those agents/Realtors who believe that their core competencies are searching for homes are destined to fail – sooner rather than later if I had my way – and we need to adapt as well.

    The ramifications for this are huge, and personally I can’t wrap my head around it yet. I know this – local boards are struggling and floundering for relevance, and if they were capable of understanding what this meant, they would be even more afraid.

    One thought – For those that think that Google is going to speed up the morphing of the Realtor into the travel agent – answer me this – where do you search for flights and hotels?

  12. Paula Henry

    July 7, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Jonathan – Ironic, it is! I wasn’t speaking for me, but the agents who have taken this to the board afraid I may have a competitive advantage indexing the IDX. Then, my local board agreeing. Like Jim said, many won’t understand the ramifications of this before it’s too late.

    Jim – This is a game changer, where boards are concerned. I agree, real estate is local and the “G” won’t replace the agent, except in the searches.

    Another thought – who do you think will rank #1 for all “real estate” search phrases?

    Everyone – Protected by the board is my “bit” of sarcasm.:)

  13. Ken Brand

    July 7, 2009 at 7:34 am

    What ever the outcome, the sharp-point for me, I better tie my thinking-cap on with a double knot. The one certain thing, if you watch and disengage, you’re gonna fade away.


    Great stuff, thanks.

  14. Joe Loomer

    July 7, 2009 at 8:05 am


    Isn’t the NAR trying something similar? Not that they’ll compete with Google, but I thought they’re testing out a national MLS (and calling it something else). Been getting invites to some Atlanta-based training to participate.

    I think this is something Jay Thompson can use in his new moonlighting position on NAR’s MLS committee to resolve the Google/Scraper issue. Google’s the Borg, we’re all going to be assimilated or find other careers (many have).

    One thing I would keep in mind is that although I have no idea how a New Zealand or Australia agent makes their money – I do know from personal experience with my mother’s estate that London is still primarily in the listing-agent-only age. This seems destined to keep it so if NZ and AU operate the same.

    As an agent who is still trying to drag myself down the tunnel to the tech light I first saw a year ago – I sometimes feel overwhelmed with this – like yet another serving’s been heaped on my plate just when I thought I was getting ready for dessert. Don’t know if I need to say “Thanks Ben” or “DAMMIT, NOT AGAIN! API what? Moblie apps? IDX who? Disintermediate a what now”

    Screw it, back to work, I’ll get there just in time for the Next Great Thing.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  15. Arlington condos Jay

    July 7, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Great post as usual on the future of the industry. There will definitely be fewer agents in the future who are better at what they do. They will do more transactions more efficiently so commissions will come down a bit–especially on the list side.

    And Ruthmarie makes great point. Excellent agents and negotiators will always be in demand.


  16. jf.sellsius.theclozing

    July 7, 2009 at 9:19 am

    It’s already here. U.S. Googlebase listings appear on Google Maps, Plus video, plus photos. A lot of folks are already feeding listings to GB, including big brokers, franchises, syndicators like hotpads and postlets. Even HomeGain syndicates to the Base. But not TruZilla.

    Problem is most folks dont know about finding property this way. Only when listings gets in the search results might things change.

  17. Susie Blackmon

    July 7, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Oh gosh Benn, love what Google is doing (take that MLS), and I LOVE your responses to some of the comments. Wish I had the good fortune to work for/with someone like you in RE. You are the exception.

  18. Jeff Israel

    July 7, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Great post Benn. It certainly makes me stop to think about my choice of career (MLS). I agree it is a game changer and those that believe otherwise…. well, won’t be around too much longer anyway. I’m interested to see what liability issues arise out of this. One of the reasons the MLS concept works is that the MLS is a policing agency that attempts to validate listing content and to reprimand those that break the rules. Most of the NAR rules are in place to either prevent a lawsuit or are the direct result of a lawsuit. Will Google be held responsible when a property is misrepresented? I’m sure a hungry attorney will put Google down as a defendant. This could be the reason Google decided not to launch this in the U.S. first. We are a very litigious country!

    I have not wrapped my head around the question of cooperation and compensation within this environment ~ another main function of the MLS.

    Jeff Israel

  19. Matthew Rathbun

    July 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I recall when we first start talking about Paula’s debacle about Google Harvesting MLS information, projecting that this was going to come about. MLS data is no longer in the hands of the agents. They need to concentrate (always should have) on services, outside of listing exposure. Being a master of these marketing venues and writing listing descriptions that are Google friendly should have always been in the marketing plan. MLS information is already easy to find, even without Google’s help – the pressure is on the Lister to make it more appealing online, than other agents.

  20. Benn Rosales

    July 7, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Hey Jeff,

    Validation of listings (no matter how good a thing it is) is not and never has been an understood value to the consumer.

    Consumers are quite capable of vetting information for themselves, and hiring an attorney when they believe they’ve been wronged- the mls has absolutely no value to the consumer in their eyes.

    Also not in the equation of value to the consumer is the need for broker to broker cooperation, nor lockboxes, nor any of the other measures boards have put into place to protect themselves.

    I’d given some serious ponder to the legal scenario and can see road blocks popping up all over the place, but the difference between disruption coming from a new business model, Google isn’t attempting to practice real estate- Google is simply allowing consumers the opportunity to share their listing in its database (not to mention they have like a trillion bucks and a global reach). The perception is harmless and will garner consumer support of Google dropped a few coins to explain to the world how the big bad real estate world is wronging it for simply offering a simple opportunity to sell their home in a really bad economy.


    Susie, we are working together when you really think about it. 😉

    Joe, keep on keepin on, the world isn’t ending, but challenge is getting more and more exciting, isn’t it?

    Ken, I’m watching folks like you because I know you’re going to be just fine.

    Benjamin, thanks for really digesting the article, that makes my job much more exciting.

    Jim, absolutely not a game ender, but I fear the buyside will suffer if a better value proposition isn’t found.

    Paula, search homes in Melbourne AU and see how they’re incorporating it- when not using maps and you simple search blank homes, notice the google ads to the right- they’re taking first position. I’m not at all sure how permanent this is.

  21. Benn Rosales

    July 7, 2009 at 10:46 am

    A couple of thoughts that haven’t even been touched on here that will change-

    FSBOs and ‘listings’ will now be listed side by side

    The need for PREMIUM listing as a value could no longer be a value

    The media companies that once fought for the right to property listings will no longer need to ‘make agreements’ with brokers to get listings

    anything else?

  22. Tom Hall

    July 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Benn – Google’s set of tools aren’t a threat. They may “out-feature” the competitors like Zillow and Trulia, but the real key to meaningful search is to better interpret a consumer’s criteria. Location has an identity. Once a property’s attritubes in conjuction with a location’s identity – aligned with a specific consumer’s criteria then there will be meaningful results. As far as I’m concerned, it’s more red pins on a map.

  23. Dan Homan

    July 7, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Seriously, the biggest mistake NAR and local boards has made is opening the MLS listings to the public via the internet. The advertising of listings should be a purely broker controlled decision, and not a community effort to undermine the internet marketing skills of agents who have taken the time to learn how to do mere than turn on a computer. In my area most agents can barely turn on a computer and many brokers have no concept of SEO – The online public listings of the MLS helping sellers, serves agents who lack the skills to market properties online. What happened to the best interest of the client? Oh, that’s right the COE only applies to individual agents, not the NAR as a whole. By the way, how much does Google charge to feature my listings? Less than

  24. Benn Rosales

    July 7, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Dan Homan,
    “By the way, how much does Google charge to feature my listings? Less than”

    Don’t know yet what advertising will look like, cool thing is, depending on how narrowed their search, your website is the details result as ‘Original Listing Source.’ So, it may not matter if Google puts no weight on who is or is not an advertiser- which to date, I’ve seen no evidence of.

    But my best guess? What you pay will probably be weighted the same as Adwords where based on popularity of the search term you purchase, will determine your click average price.

    I’m not an adwords guy just so you know.

  25. Doug Francis

    July 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    The key technology will come down to updating those Google listings when they have contracts or are sold. If that piece of the puzzle isn’t completed (by human hands) then consumers will see old listings that aren’t for sale and then have a negative reaction. This was the case about 7 or 8 years ago on the internet when clients used to call me asking about homes that that they saw on the interweb… which had sold before the run-up and seemed like bargains. Does anyone else remember that?

    Ben, nice post and thanks for keeping us thinking!

  26. Benn Rosales

    July 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Doug, that’s a very valid point which is why I think Google sees a relationship potential with local pros, not just around advertising. The source of the listing which is through your sites API use would be updated when you update it, likewise, if a seller selling themselves creates a singleprop website can also mark the source listing as sold, providing they remember to do so- obviously a hazard. I actually think they could take a page from craigslist and mark results by agent or by homeowner- this could greatly improve the value added incentive to shop the pros rather than the junk.

    and you’re welcome, glad you grabbed the spirit in which this was written.

  27. Russell Shaw

    July 8, 2009 at 10:37 am

    The agents who will likely suffer as a result will be those with no listing inventory. I don’t see any technology increasing the number of FSBO sellers in a buyer’s market. It is only in a seller’s market that the FSBO seller succeeds.

    Oddly, the advance of technology has dramatically decreased the number of FSBO sellers – all but the hard core FSBO wind up listing with one of the “put it in MLS for $500 companies”.

    Buyers able to find houses without the agent would suggest a future with a lot less exclusive buyer agency.

    Benn, you’ve been on fire lately with your analysis of the future of our industry.

  28. Mark Jacobs

    July 8, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    We are going to have to change the way we do business and adapt. Can we say goodby to and paying all that money to display our listings…

  29. Benn Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Russell, you betcha.

  30. AustinAaron

    July 11, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    And this is new info because . . . ? Hell, I nearly convinced my last client there was no need to list her property on the MLS. Why? Because we don’t need it. It’s an antiquated system reserved for late adopters. First thing I did? Shot a vid, uploaded to youtube, put the vid URL on a sign in the front yard, multiple offers, sold in 6 days. Done deal. No open house, no postlet/vflyer/craigslist ads, no website, no flyers. Google the address and you find the video. Google sold that house.

    Google loves youtube. Consumers love video. Match made in heaven. I welcome the already present google takeover. Selling houses from the comfort of the couch.

  31. Benjamin Ficker

    July 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Can you add a link to the video or the address so I can check out your video? I’m trying to find the most compelling ways to make these videos and it sounds like yours was compelling!

  32. Benn Rosales

    July 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

    @austinaaron that is because you are the quintessential promoter and see all sides of an angle before you even play the game. unfortunately, many are behind you, leagues behind you, that doesn’t mean they don’t or shouldn’t hear the good news- see you downtown

  33. Leanne

    July 12, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    As an Australian real estate agent we are excited about Googles entry into the market. We are currently spending significant marketing $$ on portals such as and are hoping that Google will at least provide some competition and prevent the continued escalation of those fees.

  34. AustinAaron

    July 20, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Sorry for the late reply. That’s the vid. Notice how I focus on who I KNOW my market will be. Not everyone is a potential buyer for your property. Forget all the others. And please don’t try your skills as a vid host if you have no on-cam personality. You will only do your client a terrible injustice. Call on a professional to assist.

    Benn – I definitely agree. ALL need to jump on the bandwagon. I suppose it really is hard for me to believe that not everyone recognizes the value of scratching the old school methods. My apologies for anyone I offended. Not my intent. But if those that aren’t familiar with the game changing techs don’t learn with the quickness, you’ll be the only one that’s sorry. Get at me.

  35. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 2, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Sorry about the late post, I’m catching up on all the excellent Benn blogs.

    I don’t see what all the panic is about yet, maybe I will eventually. All the info is already out there.

    It starts out in the local MLS systems, all neatly controlled and password protected. But then is offered up IDX Style on agent web sites all over the place in exchange for a flimsy registration (fake name, fake email, fake phone #) …OR…on a lot of agent sites just wide open.

    IDX is legal and has never been a problem. Agents love it.

    So now SOME of this same IDX data gets onto Google with the same lack of detail as it has via IDX and suddenly it’s a big problem.

    What am I missing?


  36. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 2, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Oh yeah, almost forgot. Nice video Double-A, quite entertaining. You have a good knack for that. If I tried that it would come across about as engaging as the Terminator.


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