Booli is a real estate search engine service in Sweden where the market demand for Internet search is reaching new heights. According to a recent study (in Swedish) done by Skandiamäklarna, 84% of the buyers find their new home today via Internet, showing a 25% growth just from last year.

The service doesn’t require registering and is free for both users and the over 600 real estate agencies in Sweden. By registering to the service one can for example save a search profile to receive notifications for matching objects. The real estate agencies are offered to add and update information on the objects they have for sale. Booli indexes and updates all available objects once a day, always linking back to the origin of the object descriptions.

The company is privately owned by its 10 employees together with private investors and the Firm Factory Network. The business model is based on advertising focused on the services close to housing, such as insurance, electricity suppliers, banking and broadband.

I sat down with Anders Kyhlstedt, VP Marketing, to talk about what’s been going on since Booli left beta in the beginning of this year and how they are copying with the current economic state affecting the real estate business.

What does Booli offer
According to Anders the users are most happy about the fast search and the easy to use interface. I must agree, it is fast and easier to find, thanks to the new redesign.

Booli has finally gone nationwide, which gives an extra flavour to the their new fullscreen map search (Boliga offers a similar fullscreen map search but lacks the choice to show objects with photos and reduced prices).

Other Booli features:
– See how much a house/property, not apartment, was sold for, and how the bidding process evolved.
– Time an object has been on the market.
– Changes in price: Has the initial price gone up or down?
– Statistics on a specific city area compared to the city in general, e.g. time on the market, initial price and changes in price.
– Air photos 

Personally I miss a better functioning site on iPhone alt. an iPhone app, and a possibility to compare different city areas.

The competition and current market situation
The current economic situation hasn’t slowed down the business for Booli. The need for a real estate search enginge service with add-on statistics seems to be as important as during the good economic terms. The customers are trying to stay ahead of the situation by following the prices in ones area and looking for the “great good buys”.

When it comes to competition, Booli encourages market transparency and has been a leading voice trying to engage the other actors in a dialogue. It hasn’t been an easy road.

Since it’s launch december 2007, Booli has been shaking up the market, which until then had been controlled by Hemnet, co-owned (among others) by two of the largest real estate agencies, together with 40% of the marketshare. They were not welcoming the competition and even the branch organization for real estate agencies threatened Booli with a lawsuit. The rest of the market and Internet users were quite of an opposite opinion, resulting Peo Nilsson and Anders Kyhlstedt, CEO and VP Marketing, to be crowned the Entreprenour of The Year 2008 by Internetworld (In Swedish).

Latest addition to this conversation was held just two days ago between Booli and Fastighetsbyrån, one the of the owners of the Hemnet. As thriving for openness the conversation (In Swedish) took place for the first time in public on Twitter. Fastighetsbyrån had difficulties to argue that competition and increased visibility of the objects is good for the market and their customers, yet at the same time refusing photos of their objects to appear on Booli search. For free. Booli’s mission is to change the market for the good of the buyers and sellers. I think this discussion in the open was one step closer to that change.

Where is Booli heading next?
Inspirational Search: According to Anders there’s a huge gap to be filled in inspirational search, i.e. users browsing content for inspiration and new ideas. As many as 67% of people browsing the real estate sites do it for inspiration. I did get a sneak peak which I found very interesting.
– Open API: There’s an open API on the way to enable the content to be shared in a broader context.
– New markets: Booli is looking into new markets and is about to launch in the near future.

Booli’s strengths
– I think Booli has chosen the right path by keeping the service free for both users and real estate agencies. 
– As a startup the ability to stay focused on the core business, i.e. to improve the service by staying relevant for their customers and the market.
– Company’s transparency and desire for ongoing dialogue towards the market and the customers. What I especially like is the presentations of their competitors, Hemnet, Bovision, Bospindeln and Boliga, including links.

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