Canadians looking for a home online have long lacked the technological options of their American neighbours. That's because in the United States, the data needed to fill the websites with useful data flows freer. But Canadian sites are trying to beef up, and the largest real estate brokerages in the country (and the largest cable company) are playing a big part. Here's how some sites stack up.
The gold standard for real estate portals, the U.S. housing site was founded by the same person who helped take down the travel industry with Expedia.com.
Upside: The site gives real-time data to browsers, including maps that show how much each house on the street sold for the last time they were on the market. It also keeps track of how long each house has been on the market, and keeps track of changes in the asking price.
Downside: While hugely popular, Zillow has yet to turn a profit. It's surviving on venture capital. It has received about $87-million (U.S.) so far, which buys an awful lot of website.
Working on the assumption that consumers who do their own legwork should pay less to real estate agents, this U.S. site tries to make it easy for prospective buyers to find their dream homes.
Upside: The site crunches data from Multiple Listing Services across the country to provide rich profiles of many of the country's major markets. It also seamlessly integrates demographic information, letting users find out which schools are close by or how many single people live in a neighborhood.
Downside: To get at all of the site's information, users must join as members. That's because the MLS-generated information is still owned by the real estate industry. "The local MLS allows us to show you the full listing only if we've established that you are genuinely interested in buying a home." Sorry, looky-loos.
The official website of the Canadian Real Estate Association, Realtor.ca compiles listings from across the country and puts them all on one website for Canadian consumers.
Upside: Because the industry maintains the site, every listing is vetted by a licensed professional who is accountable for what is online. That means room sizes are accurate, asking prices are actually the asking prices and the agents are actually agents.
Downside: The technology is clunky, and searching can be frustrating. It only includes listings from agents, which means no for-sale-by-owner listings. To get information on former sales and days on market, a user must contact an agent.
Funded by venture capital from Rogers Communications, Zoocasa allows agents to post their listings for free and makes its money through advertising and upgrading them to fancier packages.
Upside: Technology makes this site stand out, with a special feature called "Walk Score" particularly useful for browsers. It tells would-be buyers how far away amenities such as coffee shops, transit stops and bookstores are from any listing and provides basic demographic info as well.
Downside: Because agents have to opt-in, the listings aren't as robust as Realtor.ca. That means anyone relying solely on the site could be missing out on good opportunities. Browsers must also take the listings at face value, since they aren't appearing on an "official" CREA site.