Tag Archives: apartments

Trulia Branches Out into Rentals

Trulia, which is ranked a Top 7 real estate site by Comscore, has followed the lead of Realtor.com and Zillow and added rentals to its site. The rentals section features all of Trulia’s functionality, such as neighborhood information, mapping and ratings information, and filters for relevant searches such as “pets allowed.”

The site also offers “search on the go.” Roughly ten percent of Trulia’s usage now comes from mobile devices. Trulia’s mobile Web site is compatible with the iPhone, Blackberry and Android platforms.

Trulia rentals covers the gamut from multifamily to houses. Listings will come from Independent Listings Services, as well as from brokerages and landlords. There are “millions” of units on the site at launch, with more than 25,000 in New York City.

One advantage of Trulia rentals, per CEO Pete Flint, is Trulia’s ability to assume hosting duties for listers including the hosting of contact info, images of units and floor plans, and other information. That separates Trulia from some of the rentals aggregators in the market, such as Oodle, he says.

Flint notes that 30 percent of the site’s visitors are typically looking to either rent or buy. The market trends are “absolutely in favor of renting,” he says. Overall, rentals “are as large as the ‘for sale’ business.”

Separately, in an interview with Business Week, Flint deflected rumors that Google has been looking into buying the company. Trulia uses many of Google’s features and it would seem to be a nice fit. But Flint told BusinessWeek that the real estate market isn’t strong enough to appreciate the site’s full value this year.

As an alternative, the company is looking for an outside investor that would let employees and owners cash in their shares without waiting for an initial public offering, similar to Facebook’s arrangement with Digital Sky Technologies, a Russian company; and Yelp’s arrangement with Elevation Partners.

Zillow Adds Rentals to Real Estate Listings; Introduces Premiums

Facing up to the reality of a real estate market in which many houses for sale end up becoming “shadow” rentals, Zillow has added rental listings and information to its real estate services. At the same time, Zillow is attaching a $9.95 premium for listings to be posted for six months, which represents the first time that the ad-supported service has ever charged for listings. The fees include unlimited photos.

Zillow’s new fees, however, will only be assessed for “manual” listings that are not part of the feeds that Zillow receives from its primary sources, which include brokers, 200 Multiple Listings Services and 171 newspapers. Just three percent of its listings are said to be“manual,” representing a potential rental listing market of 120,000 units.

CFO Spencer Rascoff says that he expects to see strong demand for rental information. The company points to research showing that 25 percent of its four million unique visitors are “dual tracking” rents and houses for sales, seeing whether they can get a better deal from renting or owning. “No one expects price appreciation anymore. All you have is an option to pay for a house outright,” says Rascoff.

The rental option gives users an option to view rental costs a la carte, or against “for sale” information. While adding rentals would theoretically pitch Zillow against rental publishers such as Apartment Finder, Apartments.com, ApartmentGuide and My New Place, Rascoff says Zillow’s offering is really oriented towards single family homes, or small complexes, while the others are oriented towards large property managers. “A third of rental units are single family homes,” he says. “More than half of rental units are four units or less.”

Apartments Increasingly Marketed on Web, Mobile

Apartments are in the vanguard among online marketplace verticals, as more apartment owners take advantage of Web and mobile features to target prospects — especially younger prospects.

Indeed, apartment owners are increasingly leveraging video to show off floor plans and surrounding communities. They’re also using social media such as MySpace to differentiate their communities and give them a “vibe,” especially for higher end properties. They’re also using mobile-enabled sites to catch prospects as they drive by.

Organic search also comes into play. NCI, which produces ApartmentFinder, has seen the site jump 52.5 percent in the last six months, according to blog notes from Chairman Dan McCarthy. Indeed, new data from ComScore for March shows that among traditional apartment shopper media with print and websites, ApartmentFinder now has the second most used apartments site after ForRent. (Apartment pureplays like Rent.com and Apartments.com might have higher overall traffic).

“We haven’t driven our growth through spending a lot of money on keywords and unqualified traffic,” says McCarthy. “We’ve focused on optimizing the long tail of organic search. We’ve focused on creating a simple product for consumers that gives them lots of ways to interact with the apartment communities we list.”

Entrepreneur Watch:Cazoodle Crawls Vertical Listings

Cazoodle, a new listings-based service, has launched from the incubator at The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (yes, Marc Andreeson’s former territory). The site currently crawls for apartment listings and shopping. Additional vertical categories such as events are anticipated, notes Professor Kevin Chang, who is supervising seven graduate students on the project. “We have the technology and we want to use it,” he says.

The service started in San Francisco with apartments and added shopping afterwards. It now provides those listings in more than 20 markets. National coverage of apartments will begin shortly. The key to the service, says Chang, is a comprehensive set of crawled ads, and a better user experience that isn’t dominated by showcased ads.

The landing pages of many vertical sites are “2/3 ads, 1/3 listings,” he says. Cazoodle hopes to reverse the ratio (although it isn’t actively selling ads at this point). The site also has an elegant integration with Google Street View and Maps.

Looking forward, Chang hopes to build direct relationships with major listers, such as managers of apartment communities. Direct relationships provide much better information than what you can get by crawling, he says. Ultimately, be believes that’s a major differentiator. He also hopes to begin adding community information.

But the site is not without controversy (or maybe, there should be controversy). For instance, the site dives deep into the sites that it crawls. During mouse-overs, it highlights a picture of the product or apartments, and full listing information.

Chang argues that Cazoodle isn’t actually “deep linking” since the URLs of crawled sites are still highlighted, and only one picture is displayed. But in reality, there may not be much of a reason to visit the site of origination, given the easy “one stop” that his system provides.

Deep linking is an issue that is boiling over right now (See Gatehouse vs. Boston.com), and there will soon be resolution, whether it is in the courts or the marketplace.

Two Apartment Sites Tie Up for Broader Reach

The old maxim says that when new cars are down, used cars are up. And when house sales are down, apartments are up. We’ve heard from some publishers that they are seeing more apartment advertising. But prices have been hurt by “shadow rentals” for houses and condos that don’t move, and boomerang kids moving in with their parents instead of getting their own place. According to Reis, Inc., rents stayed flat or declined in 59 of the 79 markets tracked last quarter.

Meanwhile, the apartment portals are making their moves. Classified Ventures’ Apartments.com announced this week that it is buying Austin-based Apartment Home Living, a lifestyle brand. The two sites will maintain separate identities, but will combine their reach.

Apartment Home Living gets 525,000 unique visitors a month, and might be seen as a site for more freewheeling renters than apartments.com — although they really offer the same types of features. The site says it provides a “live for fun” community experience, proprietary lifestyle matching, and 4,100 local living guides and 1,100 local videos to help renters find “their perfect place to live.”

The site also provide “MyMedia”–a product that helps apartment managers increase their closing and retention rates via personalized emails, forms, flyers and videos. A version of “MyMedia” will be available to Apartments.com customers this spring.

Video Drives Up ‘Social Score’ for Apartment Sites, Others

The embrace of social media by the real estate and apartment communities has been a strong one, with many sites displaying videos of units and the community (or linking to YouTube),writing blogs and participating on social sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Virtue, a consulting/analytics company that measures “brand conversations,” says apartment sites are especially dominated by Dominion Enterprises’ ForRent.com, where it leads the next highest scorer, eBay’s rent.com, by 66 percent. Other sites that were measured include move.com, apartments.com, mynewplace.com, apartmentguide.com and apartmentfinder.com.

Video sharing makes up the largest portion of the site’s social media score, constituting 83 percent of ForRent.com’s social media score The bulk of this comes from ForRent.com’s “community theater,” a collection of widely distributed TurnHere videos focusing on different communities.

During October, these videos were viewed more than 17,000 times a day. Social networking accounted for 12 percent of the score. ForRent has set up profile pages in 40 markets where it has print pubs, and reports that the pages are being used by 5,300 customers.

Inman: Social Media is Real, Mobile Will Be

Social media may not be worth much as an advertising medium right now, but it has become a critical part of real estate marketing, according to speakers at the Inman Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco. “It is not just FaceBook or MySpace,” notes Sami Inkinen, Co-founder and COO, Trulia. “With Trulia Voices, you ask a question and within 20 minutes you start receiving answers from 100,000 real estate professionals. It is connecting buyers and sellers every day.”

Inkinen also says that mobile can hardly be hyped enough and has its own set of rules. “Mobile is very very important,” he says. He says peak usage for the iPhone for real estate searches is Sunday afternoon, when open houses are at their peak.

It is very different than other mobile apps, such as dating, where the peak time is after 1 am on Saturday morning “when the bars close.” (He used to work in the wireless dating buisness). It is also a very different experience than on the PC with a 21-inch monitor. “You have to tailor the experience” to each channel, he says. Trulia’s analysis has gone into the development of an iPhone app, which is nearing launch.

The importance of mobile was also emphasized by Move.com President Lorna Borenstein, who cited research showing that 50 percent of Realtors will be using smart phones by the end of 2008. “People do their research on line, then they start driving,” she says.

Borenstein also cited the importance of “accuracy, freshness an comprehensiveness” in the database. By the end of the summer, every Realtor.com listing will be time stamped,” she says. Currently, 2 million of Realtor.com’s 4.5 million listings are updated every minute. (Realtor.com is Move.com’s premier online property).

Having large, numerous magazine style photos is also key. Borenstein says she was “surprised at how much large, numerous photos are used by consumers. If they don’t see them, they doubt the credibility of the Realtor.”

The popularity of large photos has a direct impact on usage. In Las Vegas, for instance, usage of the MLS grew substantially after it started featuring large photos. We can get a 300 percent boost” with photos, she says, noting that Move.com sells them to its 265,000 Realtor advertisers as a premium. That analysis played a large role in the redesign of the site, which is geared “100 percent” around photos. “Before that, I was buzzing about video,” but it isn’t nearly as important, she indicates.

MyNewPlace CEO John Helm says that apartment listings also are highly dependent on photos. “Fifty percent of listings don’t have photos. But without a photo, you will get just 25 percent of the lookups.”