It’s time to rethink what you think about real estate search.

A year after I first wrote that brokers and agents might as well give up on IDX and listing search for their websites, the prognosis is not looking any better.

As our industry begins to grapple with the overwhelming dominance ZTR have on the online search experience, the big three will continue to suck more and more oxygen out of the space, leaving very little room for brokers and agents in their wake.

IDX was once a great leveler for brokers and agents on the Web. It gave everyone the same access to data. Putting aside for a moment the question of data accuracy — which I still believe isn’t as big an issue to consumers as some think — the problem is, this leveling has caused all properties to be marketed and distributed on the Web in exactly the same way. And very little innovation has come as a result.

It’s like we were all given the same goods and everyone opened up a shop on the same street selling the same things. If you’ve ever stood in the middle of the Akihabara gadget district in Tokyo, you know what I mean.

Sure, your shop can have a slightly more modern layout and design, and you can pump some cool tunes out the front door. But at the end of the day, everybody’s selling the same thing.

How do you truly stand out from the crowd?

Think different

We’re constantly trying to come up with new ways real estate companies can better express their brands online. But it took a little hi-fi shop in Stockholm to open my eyes to how real estate search on the Web could really be different.

The Stockholm House Equalizer by Pause is a beautiful microsite that serves a seemingly small and underserved audience. It exists to help Swedish music lovers find a home where they can crank their music to 11.

Slide the switch on the site all the way up and it will refine the search results to show you all the homes that you could consider.

The resulting experience is simple, fun and, more importantly, extremely relevant to the consumer.

The next step

Relevance is key.

This is why I believe the next step for real estate brokers and agents is not to go broad and chase the portals with IDX search. But rather, go narrow.

It’s no longer good enough to simply say we have all the listings.

Take note of what Pause built and start building targeted, single-purpose niche search sites around new categories, amenities or lifestyles. Serve those users’ singular needs and, in the process, align your company’s brand with those constituents.

It’s easy to think of a broker or agent developing several niche search sites that would work as well as the home stereo site. Think of a home search tool for dog lovers (proximity to dog parks and pet food stores), or cyclists (proximity to bike repair stores and bike paths), or coffee lovers (distance to indie coffee shops and distance from Starbucks).

Admittedly, these are all very Portland-ish pursuits, but I’m sure you see what I’m driving at.

Is it not too much of a stretch to think about creating a real estate search site for surviving the zombie apocalypse?

Map of the Dead is a fun site that geolocates you and maps your proximity to all your must-haves in case the dead rise and you need to survive on your own: hardware stores, gun stores, supermarkets and the like.

Layer in IDX data to this experience and you could have a pretty neat site to market to your community when the “Walking Dead” returns to the air in a couple months.

(As an aside, I think there’s a big opportunity for a company out there that can help brokers and agents build these kinds of sites. Free idea — run with it.)

The point here is stop trying to be like the electronics vendors in Tokyo who stuff everything into their shop windows.

Think small. Think niche. And, more importantly, think fun.

Joel Burslem is with 1000watt, a marketing, design and strategy firm focused on real estate. Reposted with permission from 1000watt blog.

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