Cyberhomes, the property listings, valuation and information site operated by Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions, relaunched over the weekend with a new look and capabilities.
As with many redesigns, the goal was to make it easier for users to take full advantage of the site’s capabilities — and also put a greater emphasis on Cyberhomes’ growing listings and editorial content.
When visitors come to the site for the first time, they now see one of about a dozen themed backgrounds designed to make "emotional contact," said Cyberhomes General Manager Marty Frame.
When Frame demonstrated the revamped site last week for Inman News, the home page sported a Southwestern theme: a green cactus jutting out from a tan background consisting of an adobe wall and weather-beaten wooden doors and trim.
Although some considerable effort seems to have been expended on these backgrounds, visitors will only see them once. The home page is adaptive, offering up charts and data to repeat visitors that take into account their interests on previous trips.
After looking at a particular property, for instance, you might see a snapshot of that home the next time you visit the site, along with neighborhood information and other relevant statistics.
"The home page builds itself around your interests," Frame said.
Launched in 2006, Cyberhomes announced its first broker partnership in May 2007, with Keller Williams Realty. At the time, the company said the agreement and others would bring about 500,000 searchable property listings to the site
Today Cyberhomes has 2.5 million listings, and has licensed another 500,000 that it plans to bring online soon. The site also offers records on another 100 million properties that aren’t on the market, which Cyberhomes relies on to deliver home valuation estimates, show comparable properties, and illustrate market trends in most areas of the country.
Information on 750,000 foreclosed properties — about three-quarters of total foreclosure inventory — is published without hiding the addresses, as some pay sites do.
There’s also a wealth of other detailed statistics on neighborhood demographics, economics, schools and crime. Frame said the site can draw on enough information to generate about 25 charts and graphics for every property.
The site’s depth is largely a function of the access Cyberhomes enjoys to databases maintained by companies under the umbrella of its Fortune 500 parent, Fidelity National Financial Inc. Those companies include Fidelity National Title Group Inc., which issues nearly one-third of U.S. title insurance policies, and Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions, which provides technology, services and information to real estate brokers and agents, MLS providers, and mortgage lenders.
The depth of information on the site means the typical user stays for half an hour, Frame said. With an average of 2.5 visits a month, that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes a month on the site.
Although Cyberhomes says the site’s primary goal is not to generate advertising revenue, it doesn’t let all those eyeballs go to waste, either.
On a recent visit to the site before the relaunch, advertisers were pitching everything from cell phone service to athletic shoes — not to mention more familiar fare for real estate sites like mortgages (LowerMyBills.com and LendingTree both had prominent ads).
Rather than just putting advertisements in front of visitors or generating leads, Cyberhomes is evolving into a site that can figure out what a user wants, take what it knows about that customer, and generate an offer they can act on — all without the consumer having to fill out a long application form.
"We’re fundamentally different than a pure-play dot-com," Frame said. "You not only get the lead, but you can close" using the same back-end technology already in use in thousands of real estate offices.
"We’re here because the opportunity exists to attract the consumer with this information." Frame said. "But then we’re able to say, we know you are interested in this home, you have this much equity, we know your general credit profile, who you did this deal with — so here’s this company that wants to have you as a repeat customer."
Cyberhomes users already get offers for insurance this way.
"If they’re looking at any given property, it will say, in case you are interested and if you are the owner of this home, here’s a binding quote on a homeowners or auto policy," Frame said. "We don’t have to know who you are in order to quote the policy. We know the risk premium on the house, can quote the deductibles, and make assumptions based on your home or what kind of car you drive."
The ability to provide an insurance quote without having a consumer fill out a long form isn’t what’s revolutionary — Fidelity National Insurance Co. agents have been selling homeowners auto insurance policies through joint ventures with real estate companies for some time. But putting the back-end tools on the Web to let consumers accomplish the same task is new.
"We are leveraging technologies that already exist" to move what have been business-to-business services to the Web, Frame said. Cyberhomes users will start seeing offers generated this way from mortgage lenders this summer, Frame said.
"The loan product is real estate broker-centric," he said. "It is always focused on a company-owned or affiliated mortgage provider, and it will be powered by software they already use on the desktop."
Cyberhomes users, he said, will be able to "look at a home, push a button, and get a good faith estimate showing what will it take to close (a home loan), whether it’s a purchase or refi."
While parent company Fidelity National Financial Inc. and its subsidiaries are using Cyberhomes to sell their services, "our goal is to work with everybody" who wants to take advantage of the site’s capabilities, Frame said.
"We have a parent company that plays a role in every aspect of the real estate transaction," he said, and can end up benefiting from deals the site facilitates whether its services are engaged there or at some other point.
Another reason for Cyberhomes’ "broker-centric" approach is that the site depends on them for listings. Brokers who provide listings aren’t charged for leads or enhanced services.
Cyberhomes does not charge extra to publish virtual tours with listings, and Frame said there are about 750,000 available through the site now.
"We’re not here to get $50 per listing for listing enhancements," he said.
In coming weeks, Frame said Cyberhomes will add other channels, including a personal finance section and a moving section.
The site has already aggregated about 50,000 new home communities and launched a search function for new homes, and plans to add new partners to its rentals and new homes sections.
The site redesign is supposed to help users take advantage of those new capabilities, and also access the work of an editorial staff of seven writers who post stories in the site’s "Good Reading" section, Frame said.
"It’s a magazine driven off of our data content," Frame said, offering "deep analysis by folks who have been writing about real estate for consumers for awhile."
The stories show how to put Cyberhomes data to good use, and the site will soon offer tools to geared to helping other real estate reporters and bloggers do their own analysis and generate charts and graphics.
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