x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Google to drop property listings from Google Maps

Google is dropping its plans to take over the real estate listings business.

Google is shelving its attempt to take over the global property listings business.

The search giant has announced it will stop posting listings on Google Maps as of February 10, ending a two-year-old initiative to create a property business.

The company cited low use, "the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites and the infrastructure challenge" of creating a global property platform as reasons for dropping the service.

Shares of Rightmove, the dominant listings site in the UK, jumped more than 4 per cent on Friday, hitting an all-time high after Google made the announcement.

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"Google has the mass audience but not sufficient content, and content is king," said Renan Bourdeau, the managing director of the UAE property portal propertyfinder.ae. "Google was unable to gather the stock required to sustain a browser's interest when searching property within a portal."

Google's move into property prompted a fierce debate within the industry. The company's ability to aggregate listings and serve as a first stop for consumers searching for homes was seen as a possible category killer to listings services such as Rightmove, and Trulia in the US.

"Google is probably the most significant influence of the next two or three years, in terms of how real estate is done," Rob Hahn, the managing partner of the consultancy 7DS Associates, predicted last year. "The impact will be very far-reaching."

Agents could upload their listings to Google for free and the search giant automatically pulled listings from sites around the web unless companies blocked the service, drawing protests from some property companies and services offering exclusive listings.

Google also allowed individuals to add their listings, which threatened to break brokers' stranglehold on promoting homes for sale

The service had been rolled out in the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Japan, with Google executives indicating they expected to make property one of the company's core offerings. In response, several of the major portals refused to share their listings.

Critics said Google's service was also difficult to use as it was integrated in Google Maps, not the main search engine, making it confusing for consumers trying to find specific listings.

"Maps does not provide enough content to correctly engage a serious property seeker," said Mr Bourdeau. "A variety of tools are required to fulfil even a simple property search."

There was also no clear route for Google to make money from the service, industry executives said. Last year, Google also dropped its much-touted Wave collaborative service as it did not generate the revenue or interest predicted by tech analysts.

Rightmove saw "no negative impact" from Google and posted record site views since the launch of the service in the UK, a Rightmove spokesman said. The UK portal does not view Google "as being in direct competition with our core business", he said.

At the same time, Rightmove and other property portals have been integrating Google Maps into their own sites. Propertyfinder.ae planned to add Google Maps next month.

"We recognise that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible," said Brian McClendon, the vice president of Google Earth and Maps.

Google will continue to "explore" the property listings market but will for now focus on its existing search and street view services, Mr McClendon said.

kbrass@thenational.ae