RealTime IT News

New Real Estate Search Aims to Defy Rivals, Market Woes

The housing market may be in freefall, but, as they say, where there's a problem, there's an opportunity.

Real estate search service Roost.com launched publicly today, promising a more comprehensive and targeted approach to house hunting on the Internet.

"We are laser-focused on getting search right," Roost CEO Alex Chang told InternetNews.com. The site directs traffic to local agents' Web sites on a cost-per-click basis.

Roost debuts in 14 markets around the country, including Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. Chang said he hopes to bring the service to 30 major metropolitan markets by the end of the year, and complete a nationwide rollout within two years.

Chang said the service would not launch in a local market until it can offer an exhaustive set of listings. When setting up shop in a market, Roost forges partnerships with the area's Multiple Listings Services (MLSs) and major real estate brokers.

The site enters a niche area of the online search space, competing with more established services like Zillow.com and Trulia.com.

With entrenched competitors and an economy teetering on the brink of recession -- driven in large part by the credit squeeze and a sharp downturn in the housing market -- the present might not seem the best moment for Roost to make its first appearance.

Yet some analysts have suggested that real estate agents will have to retool their marketing strategies and devote more energy to promoting their businesses online.

Amid these conditions, Roost is betting that there's room for one more real estate search service in an already-crowded market.

For instance, since realtors are the crux of Roost's business model, there's no ads or other non-search content on the site.

Chang said Roost is committed to preserving the sparse look of its service, resisting the temptation to add some of the features that can be found on other sites.

There are no community forums, no blogs, no social features on Roost -- only listings.

The site's core search and comparison features are both robust and granular. House hunters can filter search results by several criteria, including school district, neighborhood, builder or broker.

They can set search parameters by the usual litany of real estate options -- price, housing type, number of bedrooms -- and can also mine listings of planned construction and homes being sold directly by the owner.

Listings with photos available appear with thumbnail images that expand when users mouse over them. There is also a feature to compare images from different listings side-by-side.

The site also uses the Google Maps API so shoppers can plot their results and see their proximity to transit stops or other points of interest.

"Anything that's geo-coded that Google knows about" will show up on Roost, Chang said. "Roost is about really getting the job done right [with] a great search engine with a local-market approach."