In the absence of a universal multiple-listing service in Manhattan, services called “spiders” and other Internet search engines are multiplying like jackrabbits. But like any beasts, these services are falling prey to natural selection.
At least six services are currently serving or poised to serve Manhattan residents seeking a one-stop destination for citywide property listings. Spiders collect real estate listings from other Web sites, typically brokerages, not necessarily with their knowledge. The services consolidate residential real estate listings from disparate sources at the touch of a button – a heady experience for the frustrated real estate shopper in New York City.
But some of these services are falling victim to internecine battles. Trulia.com, based in San Francisco and perhaps the granddaddy of the listing services, had plans to launch in Manhattan in January. But the company has been busy fending off another listing service, a spider called Cribseek.com, which allegedly appropriated some of Trulia.com’s computer code.
“Our lawyers got in touch with them, because we had the understanding that they had taken some of our code from our Web site,” said Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO of Trulia.com. “They’ve since shut down operations.”
Howard Yen, Cribseek.com’s owner, said his Web crawler’s retreat is only temporary.
“Our situation with Trulia has been resolved,” he said. “We decided to change direction with the focus of the Web site.”
Yen said Cribseek.com’s spider will return in the next month or so: “The new emphasis will be on statistics, trends, and data for for-sales and rentals in addition to listings.”
Because of the way spider programs work, some search engines currently serving Manhattan are distancing themselves from the term. Most say they are going to great lengths to get permission from their sources or a “data feed” from sources.
“We actually don’t spider,” said Gea Elika, the founder of CityCribs.com. “That’s actually against copyright laws, especially with real estate companies that have exclusives. Sites are really not allowed to spider without the authorization of the real estate company.”
CityCribs.com, founded in 2004, is based in New York City and is expanding its Los Angeles, Miami, and New Jersey listings.
Spiders: Parasites or spreading the wealth?
The term “listing aggregator” is sometimes used to describe some Internet search engines, which include “spiders,” but critics claim that definition is inadequate.
Some companies make a fine distinction between services that collect real estate listings, but keep searchers within their Web sites, like CityCribs.com, and those that collect only the links to real estate listings (meaning searchers are transported to brokerage Web sites or classifieds listings when they click on the links). The latter are similar to Google.com.
“Our specialization is in indexing classified listings all throughout the Web and allowing buyers to see them all in one location,” said Ha
Nguyen, director of category management for real estate for Oodle.com, founded in the spring of 2005. “Probably one of our most popular and successful categories is real estate.” Nguyen said Oodle.com is indexing more than 1.5 million property listings in more than 100 metropolitan areas in the United States and intends to go national in 2006. But all Internet seekers are redirected to the Web sites with the listings.
“We’re sending traffic back to the original Web sites, so that they can continue to establish a brand presence,” Nguyen said. “That’s why the partners, agents, and brokers we’re working with love working with us: We’re sending them free leads.”
Flint said Trulia.com offers free traffic to brokerage Web sites, in the same way that Google.com offers free traffic to Web sites indexed by its search engine. Oodle.com uses the same business model. Eventually, both Trulia.com and Oodle.com may begin charging advertisers for a separate premium advertising position of their Web sites, much like Google.com, company representatives said.
But these sites, which are not locally based, will have to compete with other services, such as Natefind.com, a New York-centric spider that launched last spring. It searches about 20 different Web sites and links back to those Web sites, owner Nate Friedman said.
Also filling the void for Manhattan brokers seeking information in the absence of a comprehensive multiple-listing service, as well as their compatriots in Brooklyn, is PropertyRover.com. Co-founder Laurence Ross said the subscription service was launched two years ago to help Manhattan brokers by collecting listings from a growing number of Web sites, currently totaling more than 160. Brokers link directly to the property listings. A consumer version of PropertyRover.com is being considered, he said.