- Online property-matching is emerging as an alternative to traditional searching.
- It tends to provide users with short lists of properties based on lifestyle preferences, often gauged through quizzes. And it discourages searching by neighborhood or zip code.
- Casamatic is feeding leads to agents in the mid-west, and PlaceILive offers an API (application programming interface) that brokerages can tap to incorporate its property-matching tool into their websites.
Homebuyers, particularly those lazy millennial types, don’t want to have to sort through hundreds of listings that a property search spits out. They want to be spoon-fed just a handful, a carefully curated batch that closely maps to their full range of preferences.
That’s the thesis behind what could be called “property-matching,” an alternative to the conventional online search experience. It’s underpinning a growing number of apps and websites and beginning to surface on established listing portals.
Casamatic, which recently raised $1.1 million and covers Chicago, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, epitomizes a property-matching service. It gauges prospective buyers’ preferences through a quiz centered on lifestyle preferences, like travel time to friends and work, along with favorite activities, and returns a small number of listing search results that aren’t dictated by neighborhood boundaries.
“Our job is to show the buyer the least amount of homes,” said Casamatic CEO Alex Bowman, who, like other founders of property-matching services, sees his startup as the eHarmony or OkCupid of real estate.
Users are prompted to enter the addresses of friends and family they might want to live near along with their work address, ideal commute time and transportation method. They’re also asked whether highly rated schools are important to them, what they like to do (e.g. enjoy the arts, kid friendly activities, go out at night), their favorite foods and home styles, and their ideal amount of acreage.
Only after answering most of these questions are users asked to specify their price range and the minimum number of bedrooms and bathrooms they need. Moreover, users can only search by metro area, not ZIP code or neighborhood.
Transcending neighborhood boundaries
Why? Because buyers can easily pass over communities they’d love simply because they don’t know to search in them.
Listing results are represented by photos and their pros and cons based on a user’s preferences. One listing, for example, might be advertised as matching your ideal commute time and having your preferred amount of space, but located far away from a friend.
Since listing search results aren’t restricted by neighborhood or zip code boundaries, they can span a number of towns and communities.
This is typical of property-matching services. They encourage a user to put aside preconceived notions about neighborhoods and submit to being led to communities that objectively (in theory) embody what they want in a neighborhood.
Users who want to view listings they find on Casamatic can schedule showings on property pages. If an agent part of Casamatic’s network doesn’t quickly claim a showing request sent by Casamatic, the request is then routed to another agent. Users are supposed to receive a response from an agent within 10 minutes.
The startup is still working out pricing models for leads, Bowman said. He said thousands of people have signed up for Casamatic, which requires users to register with their email or Facebook profiles.
One concern with property-matching services is that they can make mistakes and leave out properties that — contrary to their algorithms’ calculations — actually would have suited a user.
But Bowman counters that consumers already worry that mainstream listing portals don’t turn up some properties that are right for them; prospective buyers, he said, will use multiple search sites no matter what.
Moreover, property-matching services can highlight listings that might otherwise fly under the radar of buyers who only conduct traditional searches and rely on imperfect or incomplete knowledge of neighborhoods to hunt for homes.
So while a property matching service might exclude some listings that would appeal to a buyer, they also might call attention to others that a buyer otherwise never would have known about.
Property match vs. property search
It’s difficult to draw a hard line between online “property matching” and “property searching.” Listing portals are increasingly incorporating aspects of matching, such as lifestyle-based search parameters, into their user experience.
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s website, for example, offers users the option to sort listings based on lifestyle factors including quality schools, parks and public transit.
Perhaps the primary difference is that matching puts a laser focus on presenting a small number of listing results and teasing out a user’s preferences, rather than requiring a user to insert their preferences into a search.
Bowman contends that some listing portals want to present long lists of search results to drive traffic to as many listings as possible. That way they can maximize the amount of exposure they can sell to agent advertisers. Property-matching services can’t be beholden to that type of revenue model, he said.
Like Casamatic, PlaceILive’s home-matching tool tries to pin down preferences by prompting users to complete a quiz. Users are asked what they like to do on a weekend, where they like to buy groceries, what amenities they like and whether they’re single, dating or have kids, among other things.
Questions asked later in the quiz can depend on a user’s previous answers. For instance, users are only asked if they care about school quality if they’ve indicated they have children.
After submitting their answers, users are matched with neighborhoods and listings that line up what the tool has decided they want.
PlaceILive, which currently only covers New York City, offers an API (application programming interface) that makes it possible for real estate brokerages and listing portals to incorporate the startup’s property and neighborhood-matching tool into their websites. The tool could supplement a website’s existing property search tool.
‘It’s going to be one button’
PlaceILive CEO d plans to develop his property-matching tool into a service that will analyze all a user’s online data — such as their Facebook likes, Google search history and Foursquare check-ins — to build a preference profile and then direct users to listings that match that profile. It won’t involve answering any questions.
“In the next five years, it’s going to be one button,” Legeckas said. “It will calculate the best place to live … this is the goal we have.”
Legeckas sees property-matching services as taking some work off the hands of agents. Some agents already administer quizzes to clients to hone in on their property and neighborhoods preferences, he notes. Legeckas thinks PlaceILive can do that for them.