Your Web Site ... Only Better
Application programming interfaces (APIs) allow brokers to leverage the technology of sites like Google and Zillow on their own sites—free!
For many brokers and sales associates, the idea of rebuilding and updating a Web site is about as entertaining as watching monthly sales falling. After all, consumers want a lot of information and they want it right away. That’s why many brokers are now leveraging the technology of Web sites such as Google, Trulia and Zillow using a special Application Programming Interface offered by those sites.
An API is a code provided by Web vendors, such as Google.com
Prudential CA/NV/TX Realty (www.prurealty.com
) is one brokerage using this type of available technology to its advantage. The brokerage has been using APIs for almost two years.
“Consumers want to know first and foremost: What is my home worth?” says Cathy Harrington, Prudential’s director of marketing. “Zillow has done an excellent job of developing and updating this information based on market changes, property renovations and other factors,” she says.
Prudential CA/NV/TX also uses Microsoft Virtual Earth’s API for interactive mapping, which integrates property and neighborhood images, maps, satellite views and driving directions for visitors. “You can get as little or as much information as you want,” Harrington says.
Because portions of its market are among the hardest hit by the mortgage meltdown and downturn in sales, prurealty.com is also in the process of launching RealtyTrac’s API for foreclosures, which will provide information for buyers looking to move into a particular area, Harrington says. Type in a location, and a map will display available properties and their foreclosure status. Then, interested customers can call a Prudential sales associate for details. To use this API, sales associates have to subscribe to RealtyTrac for a modest fee.
The idea is that instead of driving traffic away from your brokerage Web site to sites like Zillow and Trulia; incorporating an API allows you to keep prospective buyers and sellers on your site longer. In addition, studies have shown that many potential buyers—especially younger ones—do extensive online research before ever contacting a broker.
The concept is akin to the one-stop-shopping strategy of superstores: By anticipating and providing your customers with what they need and want, you eliminate reasons for them to go anywhere else. Integration Can Be Tricky
While the use of most APIs is free, integration can be tricky. “Many brokers have Web site solutions that do not offer an easy way to integrate their sites with third-party APIs,” says John Rowles, managing director of MainRhode Interaction MGT LLC, a real estate Web site solution provider. In addition, it costs money, and lots of it, to build a custom site that incorporates APIs. “It cost MainRhode roughly $15,000 to integrate Google Maps, Trulia and Zillow into our real estate Web-marketing platform (called Foyer),” says Rowles.
“That was a one-time cost, but now our clients get that integration as part of our service. They pay for the setup required to get those API integrations working on their domains,” he says.
However, Rowles adds, it would cost less for a broker who already had a custom Web site to add API data as a one-time deal. “You can find someone with the technical skills at a site like www.guru.com
or find a local Web developer who can integrate APIs,” says Rowles.
He estimates that integrating three APIs would run $2,400 to $4,800, at a rate of $50 to $100 an hour for two days per job. Adding APIs is not a do-it-yourself venture. Free? What’s the Catch?
Why would companies offer this type of service for free? For one thing, gaining exposure adds value to their own sites.
“The benefits to Zillow are branding, links back to Zillow and traffic,” says Drew Meyers, the company’s community relations specialist.
Those who wish to display data through the API are required to include the “Provided by Zillow.com” logo and a link back to the Zillow home page, he says. In exchange, users get market data for 125 metropolitan areas across the country in five home value bands, each representing 20 percent of the market, tracking performance for up to five years. More than 4,200 accounts have been registered to use the Zillow API. Meyers says that it can be adapted to pretty much any coding system a site is using.
Zillow’s largest media partner is Yahoo Real Estate, and it’s teamed up with brokerages and financial institutions throughout the country. For example, Ourmarinebank.com, the online version of Marine Bank, headquartered in Marathon, has incorporated Zillow to provide home valuations for customers.
Trulia’s API, which has similar branding requirements, provides geographical location information and statistics on real estate price trends ranging from the neighborhood to the national level.
“We want to be seen as a site and a service that provides a lot of value in the real estate industry,” says Rob Cross, the company’s director of distribution. He says Trulia encourages partners to use the data to create their own applications, because it’s a two-way street.
“If you want to build a really great interactive map, you can use the Trulia API and build one yourself,” he says. “We love to see folks doing that.” Examples of such applications can be found at developer.trulia.com/page/gallery. Trulia also has free tools that are fairly simple to implement but add value to Web sites. “You have to be pretty techie to use the API,” Cross says. “The Web Widgets don’t require a lot of technical know-how.”
TruliaStats, TruliaMap, Home Roll and Search Box can be dropped into a site, no permission required. “They can list properties on Trulia, drop in the map, and then the properties are all mapped for them,” he says. Trulia restricts daily requests to 5,000 and Zillow to 1,000, but both will negotiate higher limits. This means that no more than the specified number of people can request to use the Trulia API on the real estate professional’s Web site. If more request to use the API, the company may charge for the service.
Sperling’s Best Places, another API provider, offers a wide range of information on communities, including school ratings, crime data and cost of living. It also compares cities to one another. Sperling’s is not a free service but offers two options: cobranded Web pages that run on the company’s computers but appear to be part of the brokerage site; or a data license, which incorporates the databases into the brokerage site.
Mapping technology has obvious applications for real estate and is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Google’s free API allows users to embed maps into their Web pages and provides tools for manipulating and adding content to them. Choices range from simple locators to maps with animation and information boxes.
Mapquest’s API, also free, incorporates routing information as well as maps with active point markers and pop-up information boxes.
In April, Microsoft introduced a new version of its Virtual Earth platform. For commercial purposes, Microsoft negotiates licensing fees based on features desired and the level of usage, says Senior Marketing Manager Lisa Usitalo. “We offer a network of partners to assist brokers who want to integrate Virtual Earth,” she says. Real Estate Believers
When Century 21 North Homes Realty (www.century21northhomes.com
) decided to use new technology to enhance its Web site and online marketing, the agency embraced this different approach.
“Our whole idea was to look at it from the consumer’s point of view,” said Bob Christian, chief operating officer of North Homes, based in Lynnwood, Wash. “Unfortunately, real estate companies and agents want Web sites that are flowery and all about themselves rather than giving the consumer the experience they want.”
Christian says he’s surprised that more brokers aren’t taking advantage of these advances in technology, which can greatly increase their Web sites’ effectiveness.
He says one concern may be that market data obtained online may vary from what sales associates provide to customers. Trulia, for example, compiles its data from information provided by real estate professionals, and that may differ a bit from the local MLS. He says that after reviewing various analyses, it’s still important to talk with a sales associate for the most current information on specific properties.
Christian, who invested in a custom Web site, finds that using APIs is a great way to get information on his site. “We use Trulia’s neighborhood statistics and market comparisons. We also like that our site allows consumers to search for information a little differently. It gives them a one-click opportunity to find what they want,” says Christian, whose site is currently in beta testing. “Even in beta testing, we’ve doubled the amount of traffic to our site, and we haven’t even advertised the new technology yet.” Buck Wargo is a Las Vegas–based freelance writer.