I’ve got a huge problem.
You see, like 99% of consumers according to the 2007 N.A.R. Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, I find the internet at least somewhat useful as an information source. This means that whenever I am searching for something, be it new music, or a new home, I will at some point turn to the ‘net for answers.
However, I typically only have an engaging experience when searching for one of these things – and if you have read the title to this post, I’m sure you can figure out which one I am talking about.
Its not that home search portals are inherently bad or broken, in fact far from it. It’s just the nagging notion that the experience of searching & researching one of the largest capital purchases of one’s life still pales in comparison to shopping for things like music, books, or electronics.
First, consider search ubiquity. When I am on the go and hear a song played that I want to find out more about or purchase, all I have to do is take out my phone and fire up Midomi. After recording a few seconds of audio (or even tap out a beat or hum a melody) and the service will tell me what the track artist and title are, in addition to an offer for it to be purchased.
If this can be done for audio, what is stopping this concept from coming to property? Why am I not able to use the mobile web to bring up information, pictures, or video when I see that a property is for sale? Why am I not able to take a picture of a home and compare it against a database for similarly styled properties?
Secondly, consider the presentation of a search. Conventional search seems to have been designed with only the consumers who are in the buying/selling cycle in mind. However, there is undoubtedly a large demographic who may be searching just for the fun of it.
Creating a home search process that is fun and engaging for consumers is a perfect way to cater to this demographic sub-set and insure that when they do enter the buying/selling cycle, you will be first on their mind. A fantastic proof-of-concept is Amazon’s WindowShop – a visual search of the bestsellers across a wide range of products all tied together with rich media to create a remarkable browsing experience. I don’t know about you, but if this concept was applied to home search I would never go anywhere else!
Finally, consider the effects of social media on home search. Thanks to the ideas of Web 2.0, features like commenting, rating, and recommendations are common fare on websites. The newly launched MySpace Music portal offers its users all three of these features, and so far they have been used to great success in giving independent artists the exposure they deserve.
So why can’t the same concept be applied to exceptional listings? Giving consumers the opportunity to connect and share, not only helps them find the home or agent that is right for them, but it helps drive traffic to the search provider.
The bottom line is that from what I’ve seen, home search still has quite a ways to go before it matches (or exceeds) the appeal of searching for a new gadget or CD online. That isn’t to say that search providers do not recognize the market shifting beneath them. Intuitive and innovation search applications are on the horizon, and Point2 is getting ready to lead the charge.