Yahoo Renovates Real Estate

Amid a housing slowdown, Yahoo has revamped its real estate section by adding new features including current U.S. home valuations, interactive mapping and local search.

The redesigned Yahoo Real Estate offers access to more than 3 million home listings, chiefly through Prudential Real Estate, and comparative information on some 50 million homes from Zillow.com.

Yahoo last month announced a deal with popular home valuation site Zillow.

Yahoo has also taken steps to better integrate the real estate section with its search network. Users can now find information about the location of local parks, schools and restaurants through tighter integration with Yahoo Local.

A link to Yahoo Answers allows users to ask specific questions on real estate-related topics.

Visitors can also go to any search box on the Yahoo site to look up real estate information, including listings, mortgage rates, and home values. A search of "Chicago real estate," for instance, will return links to Chicago listings based on three different price ranges.

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For local advertisers, Yahoo has also created a new ad box for local realtors that appears below a relevant map when a user performs a listings search on the Yahoo Real Estate home page.

"We've redesigned the site to be built around maps and local information," said Chris Saito, senior director of product of Search and Marketplace at Yahoo. "This is really the direction we think online real estate is going."

Competition in online real estate advertising has intensified this year--with newcomers such as Zillow and RedFin emerging, which emphasize user-friendly mapping and property data. Meanwhile, Google has shaken up the market with Google Base, which allows both brokers and individuals to post real estate classifieds on the search site for free.

Realtors spend the biggest portion of online ad dollars maintaining their own Web sites, according to the 2006 real estate advertising report by ad consulting firm Classified Intelligence. The next biggest categories for online ad spending were local newspaper sites, national or regional real estate sites, and niche Web publications.

The study released Tuesday also found that 51 percent of respondents were promoting their services on free classified sites such as Craigslist and Google Base. The survey was conducted by Classified Intelligence and Realty Times in June, and was based on a 101 usable surveys from 240 responses.

Peter Zollman, founding principal of Classified Intelligence, said Yahoo's moves reflect the growing battle to capture real estate ad dollars as they move online. Offering maps and other interactive tools is now as important as having the listings themselves, he said.

Realtor.com, the official site of the National Association of Realtors, remains the top-ranked real estate site with about 5 million visitors in July, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Yahoo Real Estate ranks 18th, with about 1.5 million users--up 37 percent from a year ago. Higher-ranked sites such as AOL Real Estate and Move.com have also closed on Realtor.com since last year.

But dominance in online real estate is far from assured, said Zollman. "The competition online will be intense for several more years until one player, if any, emerges as a clear winner," he said.

With the recent softening in the housing market--the pace of single-family home sales is down 21 percent from a year ago, according to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce--Yahoo's upgrade of the real estate section might seem poorly timed. But Yahoo's Saito noted that the category never goes out of style. "For us, it really doesn't matter, because consumers are always interested in real estate, whether finding out the value of their home or refinancing a mortgage," he said.

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