Zoocasa Aims to Clean up MLS's Mess

Having been looking for a new home until just recently, I know how nice it would be to have a comprehensive, user-friendly real estate site in Toronto. I'd like one that not only has all the listings for sale, but makes them easy to find, bookmark and share with others.

Enter Zoocasa. It's a new site from Rogers that aims to pick up where MLS, or uh...the new, re-branded Realtor.ca fails so miserably.

Having spent a bit of time on the site so far, it looks like it could be promising but I do have a few concerns and complaints.

First, the listings aren't as comprehensive as they need to be. And that's a problem. If I don't feel like I'm getting all the listings on the market, then what's the point? I'll need to go to another source to see what I'm missing. Looking at the Vancouver market as an example, The Future of Real Estate Marketing calculated that Zoocasa had only about 50% of the listings found on Realtor.ca.

Second, there's no mention of who's behind the site. From the About page to the FAQs, there's not a single human being mentioned - or a company name. I had to do a bit of digging to find out that this came out of the Business Development group for Rogers Communications and that it's wholly funded by Rogers. What are they trying to hide?

Lastly, will it survive? Earlier this year the popular Housing 123 was forced to shut down because they were illegally scraping MLS data. Will Zoocasa be able to compete without resorting to the same tactics? According to Zoocasa (see below) they're not scraping the data and will not index any sites who don't give their permission. But is this a viable solution?

To find out more, I was able to track down Jay Lewin who was hired by Rogers to work on Zoocasa and some other web centric projects. Our short Q&A follows:

When did Zoocasa launch?

Zoocasa launched in beta on August 9th. It was basically only friends and family for about a month to work out bugs and make sure things were solid. We went out with a press release last Thursday - we are still in beta and will be for a while still as we add new functionality and features

Are you able to share with me what sort of functionality and features are still to come?

In the short term (next few weeks) we are hoping to release a Facebook application for agents - which will let them add their listings on Zoocasa into the Facebook Marketplace via a feed.

Also, the beginning of a school section which will show catchment areas or attendance zones for schools in relation to homes being viewed as well as some basic details about the schools (# of students, address, website).

Sounds like some good stuff. Is the idea that Zoocasa will live and breathe in Facebook as much as on zoocasa.com? Or is the Facebook app just a nice little add-on?

I think of Facebook as a nice add on. Agents are already on there in the Marketplace promoting their listings. The pain point for them is it's a manual process for them. What we'll be doing is providing them with a feed that will push all their listings on Zoocasa into the Marketplace as well giving them more chance for exposure without the pain. We will also look at expanding that app to include a limited functionality version of Zoocasa in Facebook.

What unmet need is Zoocasa aiming to serve in the marketplace?

We feel that there is more to buying a home than just looking at listings... So we are looking at bringing in all the things that home buyers consider when looking for a place to live (neighbourhood info, comparable properties, school data, points of interest...) to one place taking advantage of all the great web tools available. The goal is to make this enormous, emotional decision easier.

But would you agree that they key to Zoocasa's success would be to get as comprehensive a listings database as possible?

Yes it will be very important to have as many listings as possible.

So, how do you do that? Right now, it seems there's a bit of a gap between the number of listings on Zoocasa.com and those on the de facto (albeit hated) site - Realtor.ca

Well, Zoocasa is a real estate search engine. At the moment the majority of the listings are found by our search technology which searches the web in Canada for listings. Just like Google, we bring a little bit of the listing information onto our site and when a house hunter wants to know more about the listing we channel them to the source site where we found the listing. We also accept data feeds from sources including brokers and virtual tour operators. We plan to grow our base of indexed listings via our search technology and via feeds.

We are not at full steam yet. We don't have as many [listings] as we would like but it's one of our top priorities and no one currently has all the listings of homes available for sale in Canada. That is difficult to do, but we are working hard.

Yeah, I can imagine. Well, that's good news that you get feeds directly from brokers. Does that mean you're not having to scrape the listings from the brokers sites to get their data?

We are not scraping, and we will not index any site that does not want to be indexed. The main goal here is to provide home searchers with a great user experience by helping them out with information surrounding the home and then directing them back to the source site...we want the users to end up on the agent sites.

In the end we feel that agents will want to be on Zoocasa because it will be a great marketing opportunity for them - for free, there is no cost to agents.

UPDATE: Zoocasa relaunched in July 2015 under new ownership of Toronto entrepreneur Lauren Haw.

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