Roost Seeks to Rule Online Real Estate

The real estate vertical has become one of the most competitive online. It’s full of sophisticated sites that are at the cutting edge of Web innovation (notice I didn’t use the awful phrase “bleeding edge”). Sites like Zillow and Trulia shook up the otherwise sleepy segment when the launched a couple of years ago. And a whole range of “Web 2.0” real estate verticals like HotPads and Properazzi/Enormio launched in their wake. 

Incumbents in the category include Yahoo, HomeGain, AOL, MSN, Realtor.com, among others. 

Data source: Hitwise

So how does upstart Roost intend to compete? I spoke to CEO Alex Chang last week and he said that the user experience combined with the site’s near-comprehensive listings database made it one that would rise to the top over time. (I wrote about Roost when it launched.)

The site sees itself very much like travel search engine Kayak, seeking to offer a superior search engine for real estate. Unlike most competitors, however, Roost gets listings directly from the MLS services around the country and is seeking to extend beyond them to put every listing online. It doesn’t operate in every market because it doesn’t want to enter a market until it’s got comprehensive or near comprehensive coverage. 

CEO Chang told me it wouldn’t get into community, ancillary data (e.g., crime, schools) or Q&A services in the way that Trulia and Zillow have because it wants to focus on search and what it considers to be the primary mission of the site — to enable consumers to discover every available home in a market. Chang also argued that Roost’s data were much fresher and more accurate than most of its competitors and reminded me of a study the site commissioned earlier this summer to compare the accuracy of listings on a range of competitive real estate sites:

It was performed by a third party firm (Wav Group). Take it with a grain of salt or at face value, but Roost is second only here to the MLS itself. 

But how will all these sites survive in a down market? Chang told me that his overhead is low; his team is only 16 people. So he feels he can weather the economic storm better than larger competitors that will need to cut costs. That has already been done in the form of layoffs at Zillow

Roost’s central challenge, however, is to get the word out about it’s listings coverage in a noisy and crowded field at a time when fewer consumers may be paying attention to real estate sites.

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