Trulia Expands, Gets Local

Trulia’s housing search engine will be a year old this week, and the San Francisco-based company is releasing a big batch of upgrades that should make it a worthy player in the real estate market. Until now, Trulia’s claim to fame was being one of the first companies to leverage the Google Maps technology.
Opening access to real estate information is not a solved problem; large blocks of listings are not available online from independent services due to legacy relationships and barriers. However, Trulia is smartly realizing that building a near-comprehensive listing database wouldn’t make it stand out for long (see, for example, Propsmart). So now, the company is amping up its content and proprietary tools, adding analysis and visualization on a neighborhood level. While Trulia doesn’t have the easily explainable quotient of buzz leader Zillow’s instant home value estimates, Trulia’s information should be much more useful to real estate buyers.
Trulia is also doubling its roster of states to 50, with 60 million homes nationwide (Zillow claims 68 million). Starting Monday, the site will offer neighborhood information (e.g. schools and crime data); trends for sales and listing pricing, number of sales, and Trulia search traffic; and heat maps (only available for cities) to visually communicate these dense tables of numbers.

While it’s unclear how valuable it is to designate a neighborhood as hot (for instance, number of sales is ranked on an absolute basis, driving larger neighborhoods higher), this kind of data is going to find a use, from voyeurism to nervous buyer counseling to (perhaps) smarter investments.
Trulia CEO Pete Flint claims his site is driving around 750,000 monthly visitors (apparently growing 60 percent month-over-month for the last four months) to broker and agent sites. He also says his company’s typical user is planning to buy a house within the next 14 months. As for making money… All listings are essentially advertisements, but Trulia attempts to earn its keep by featuring results at the top and bottom of each page from brokers who have signed up as advertisers. Major broker Prudential is already on board as a customer.
While the initial orchestration of individual relationships with agents and brokers is time-intensive, Trulia’s other costs are fairly low. As previously mentioned, the company uses the free Google Maps API, rather than paying for the more detailed birdseye views of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. (Google reserves the right to place ads on API users’ maps but hasn’t exercised it yet.)
Accel Partners-funded Trulia has been careful to make nice with the real estate industry, so it hasn’t quite figured out its user-generated content strategy yet. Flint says the company won’t commingle for-sale-by-owner listings anytime soon. He was more vague about plans to allow users to get onto the system if they have quibbles with the data or want to add extra information, like what Zillow announced yesterday.
When we visited Google this week, Google Earth manager John Hanke mentioned Trulia as a top outside application of its maps API. He also asserted that if Google could help it, it would try not to one-up outside developers’ mashups by rebuilding them internally. When we related the comments to Flint yesterday, he was not unpleased. 🙂