THE real estate industry was an early engager of the burgeoning online sector when readership figures for traditional print mediums began to decline. The rapid growth of the internet led to further decline in sales figures of traditional advertising mediums, including the bastion of real estate agents everywhere - the weekend newspaper. This meant property professionals had to alter their operations to suit a better educated, largely internet-based audience. Co-founder and managing director of independent real estate portal Aussiehome.com, Charlie Gunningham, believes his 10-year-old business would not have survived if the shift from print to online was not occurring. "The fact now is 70 per cent of all property enquiries come off internet sites," Mr Gunningham told WA Business News. "And 91 per cent of people, when they look for property, go to the internet first; they don't wait for weekend newspapers. I'm very sorry to The West Australian and The Sunday Times, but to be honest, it's fairly obvious." Last month, Google announced the addition of a real estate search feature to Google Maps, allowing real estate agents, franchise groups and portals to upload their listings directly to Google Maps at no cost, making them available to millions of Google users. This benefits consumers, who now have another avenue to research potential property investments, but it also has ramifications for property professionals, especially the two league-leading real estate websites, realestate.com.au and domain.com.au, owned by News Ltd and Fairfax Media respectively. Both media companies are currently weighing up whether to pull the millions of dollars they collectively spend on buying key search terms on Google. "Google is not going to replace portals but if you think about it, they're a big threat to realestate.com.au and domain.com.au ... do you really need these sites anymore?" Mr Gunningham said. "This is great for aussiehome.com because we're the web provider; web development is the largest part of our business, making up about 45 per cent. "But it's very bad if you're a portal trying to say to an agent 'you must be on our site and you have to pay $500,000 a month or something'." Property advisory and research firm SQM Research recently released the 'homes discount report', a new fee-based internet tool proving popular among consumers chasing residential bargains as it allows the value of houses that have been on the market for 60 days to be tracked. SQM Research founder and managing director, Louis Christopher, said Google was now placed to dominate the real estate listings market. "Why would a real estate agent pay money to the likes of realestate.com.au when they can put their listing on Google, potentially to a wider audience and do it for free," he said. "I bet RPData are also very scared about what's happening because Google are not only doing listings, they are also getting into the property data business."
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