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eBay inks deal to beef up real estate auctions

The online auction giant plans to announce later this week that it is expanding its real estate sales by teaming with ZipRealty.com.

    eBay has come a long way from Pez dispensers.

    The online auction giant plans to announce later this week that it is expanding its real estate sales by teaming with ZipRealty.com to bulk up its listings and features.

    As a result of the expansion, eBay added a "Real Estate" link under the "Categories" section of its home page.

    "We believe passionately that technology, and specifically the Internet, can substantially reduce the costs of buying and selling real estate as well as make it a more enjoyable experience," the company said in a note posted on its Announcements Board. "Our goal is to offer a better way to buy or sell practically any kind of property on earth--including your home."

    eBay representatives did not respond to calls seeking comment. The company previously listed real estate in its "Everything Else" category.

    eBay's bigger push into real estate is part of a broader effort by the San Jose, Calif., company to court sellers of high-end goods and services. Last month, for instance, eBay teamed with Robert Edward Auctions to offer a rare Honus Wagner baseball card, which eventually sold on the site for $1.27 million. In the past year, eBay has opened auction sites for high-end collectibles, small-business products and services, and automobiles.

    Many of these moves have been plagued with difficulties and controversy, however.

    eBay-owned Butterfields, for instance, was beset by customer complaints about shipping delays and mislabeled items in the months immediately following its debut on eBay Great Collections. Meanwhile, buyers and sellers of automobiles have waged a separate war of words on eBay Motors, claiming that sales have plummeted since eBay launched the car auction site.

    In addition, some eBay sellers criticized the company for allowing Robert Edward Auctions to rewrite eBay's rules as part of the baseball card auction.

    eBay has also modified its rules to encourage real estate listings. Unlike with other auctions, the online auction house charges a simple $50 flat fee to list real estate and does not charge transaction fees once the auction closes.

    The company also considers bids on real estate to be nonbinding because of the various local laws applying to real estate transactions. After the auction closes, eBay encourages the buyer and seller to contact each other and to contact a real estate agent to close the transaction.

    "However, neither party is obligated to complete the real estate transaction," the company says in its rules on real estate sales.

    In addition to cross-linking its site with eBay, Benchmark Capital-backed ZipRealty has seeded eBay's real estate listings with dozens of its own properties.

    The Berkeley, Calif.-based company, which operates in 15 metropolitan areas in the United States, has agreed to list all of its properties on eBay, unless the property owner objects, company president Scott Kucirek said.

    "The more exposure people get on their property the better," Kucirek said. "We're looking to gain more exposure; eBay brings that."

    On its announcements board note, eBay indicated that adding real estate to its home page is just the first step in expanding its real estate listings. The company said it would be adding service to help facilitate sales but did not give specific details.

    "As part of our future plans, sellers will be able to choose exactly how much support and service they want in their transaction, from a simple listing to a full-service brokered solution," the company said in the note.

    Kucirek also declined to give more details on his company's partnership with eBay.