House hunting on Google?

Posted on February 20, 2010


Anyone who’s been through the tedious business of house hunting will know that whether the housing market is buoyant, or whether it’s depressed, house hunting is very difficult. You’re either competing with hundreds of other people all looking for the same properties, or you’re struggling to find a house in the price range for your mortgage offer – that’s if you can get a mortgage in the first place.

House hunting is both difficult and stressful. If only you could use Google to find a house that suits you.

Well, it seems the days of Googling for the perfect property may not be that far away as, not content with providing the perfect search solution, Google may soon start offering cheap estate agents services for UK property owners and buyers.

The reason for this is that the Office of Fair Trading intends to relax the rules governing the purchase and sale of houses so that consumers can get better deals than those that are currently available. This would open the door for some of the major players in the UK to muscle in on the property service. Google is one of the companies expected to make a move into the property sector should the rules become more relaxed. Another company who could offer customers cheaper options, because of their huge buying power and financial clout, is Tesco.

According to the OFT, regulations that date back as far as 1979 are currently restricting the possibility of cheaper online options. A recent study claims that, as a result of sellers not haggling with estate agents over their fees, sellers are losing out on an estimated £570 million each year. This figure would be enough to tempt the likes of Google and Tesco to enter the arena and compete with estate agents.

The chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading, John Fingleton, stated:

Encouraging new business models, online estate agents and private seller platforms could put useful competitive pressure on traditional models and lead to better value for buyers and sellers.

Among its many current projects, Google is working a property search engine which is expected to launch sometime later this year. A spokesman for Google commented:

Users have had the ability to search for real estate listings on Google Maps in the US and Australia for some time and we’re interested in bringing that to other countries. But we have nothing to announce right now.

Peter Bolton King – from the National Association of Estate AgentsHitting back on behalf of the estate agents, Peter Bolton King – from the National Association of Estate Agents, stated:

Buying a home is often the largest single transaction of a person’s life.

It is disappointing that the OFT has not thought it appropriate to acknowledge a robust and appropriate level of consumer protection is needed.

If companies as large as Google and Tesco do become involved in the sale of property online, undercutting estate agents, the only losers are likely to be estate agents themselves.

Which perhaps explains Peter Bolton King’s stance on the issue.

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