In its quest to build RealEstate.com as a comprehensive one-stop online destination for real estate consumers, LendingTree today added a new-homes construction piece to its offerings with the acquisition of iNest.
INest is a new-homes destination on the Web that features some of the largest home builders in the country, including Centex Homes, Pulte Homes, Lennar Homes, DR Horton and Ryland Homes. The company matches home buyers to builders through a directory of more than 500 Featured Builders and 8,387 new home communities in 20 top home-building states.
To date, the company has facilitated more than $1.8 billion in sales contracts, and boasts more than 8,000 home buyers.
INest will remain an independent brand, but over time, its offerings will be integrated into RealEstate.com, an operating business of LendingTree. LendingTree President Tom Reddin said the purchase of iNest fits with the company’s overall strategy to build up its real estate offerings.
“A large part of real estate in the U.S. is new home construction,” Reddin said. The purchase of iNest is “another sign and step to our long-term commitment to the real estate space,” he added.
Consumers logging on to RealEstate.com can browse for-sale listings, get a home-price comparison, check neighborhood school and crime information, get prequalified for a mortgage, or find a Realtor or lender. They also can change their address or use a utilities sign-up service free, find a home inspector or mover, or get competitive quotes on homeowners insurance.
INest offers a home buyer rebate of up to 1 percent on a new home purchase using its Featured Builder network. Prospective buyers visit the iNest Web site and are assisted by a new home specialist who facilitates the process from a remote location, iNest Founder and CEO Andy Wolf said.
“Then we have an agent network in the field to do the final heavy lifting–if there is any,” Wolf said. After closing on a new home through iNest, the company will issue the rebate to buyers.
The iNest agents are available to do anything from consultations to full brokerage services, Wolf said, depending on what the home buyer wants.
The site also includes community and school information, a moving center and insurance center where consumers can get rate quotes. INest offers a home buyer scorecard checklist that buyers can print out and take with them to look at new homes, a home buyers guide, real estate glossary and a Department of Housing and Urban Development guide to settlement costs.
INest features a Bank of America mortgage center where consumers can get prequalified for a home loan, refinancing, check on mortgage rates, sign up for a free interest rate tracker service or read information about mortgages. In addition, homeowners can check their home’s value.
The main focus for iNest is its network of Featured Builders, which each have a micro-site within iNest with more detailed information and deep links to their own Web sites where buyers can look at home floorplans, among other offerings.
The listings, leads and access to distribution channels are free for builders, Wolf said. Builders pay a referral fee only when they close a deal through iNest. The fee ranges, depending on the value of the closed transaction.
“(Builders) are looking at iNest to get those buyers off the Internet and into the sales office,” Wolf said.
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INest was founded in the Chicago area in 1997, and received its first round of funding in 1999. Since then, the company has weathered the dot-com bust, built up its site content and grown its builder community.
Wolf said the new relationship with RealEstate.com and LendingTree is a good fit because the partnership will give its home builders access to more consumers through RealEstate.com’s marketing, which it plans to aggressively push in the next year.
“We’re testing all mediums out there so that by spring of next year, you’ll see a significant ramp up in marketing spend,” Reddin said.
Reddin also said the company will work with its new builder partners the same way it works with its real estate broker partners, offering quarterly meetings and an advisory council.
INest currently serves new home buyers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Reddin said the company is looking in the long-term to expand into other states that have substantial new-home construction markets where it makes sense to have a presence.
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