Instead of people jumping into their cars and driving from subdivision to subdivision in search of a brand new home, what if they could remain at home, jump in front of their computers and let that elusive new home find them?
They can with HomLuv.com, a new website launched Thursday at the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) annual conference in Las Vegas.
HomLuv.com is a startup that wants to flip the way most people look for a home by allowing potential buyers to select rooms based on an array of choices, Pinterest-style, and then pinpointing a developer able to execute those choices.
“The site will change the way people find and buy homes,” said Mark Law, a veteran of Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL, is now vice president of product innovation for HomLuv. HomLuv is a division of Builders Digital Experience, a marketing company for homebuilders. (In the name of full disclosure, I often provide content for BDX.)
Law said his team spent two years researching how young homebuyers shop prior to the launch. Before even visiting their first home, millennials, he said, tend to assemble an online board of what their dream home will look like. Pictures will often be of individual rooms or even furniture choices — a way of looking for property that has inspired their startup.
Better than Pinterest
As Law sees it, “traditional search is dead,” killed in part by consumers’ desire to be more involved in the experience itself. “Homebuyers want to be more immersed,” he said, noting that one-third of all searches on Google start with an image. “They don’t want text, they want pictures.”
Pinterest and Houzz, Law contends, are basically just a bunch of photos but “roads to nowhere.” HomLuv, on the other hand, gives the buyer the ability to define their design style and connect with a builder who puts up what they like best. More than 1.3 million images of new homes, room-by-home, are supplied to the site by builders.
Like Pinterest, HomLuv is image-centric. And like Houzz, it allows would-be buyers to explore tons of design options. But neither Pinterest or Houzz present users with the ability to build their photos into houses. The two highly popular sites also don’t connect to builders in the many ways that HomLuv does, and their photos might be from million-dollar houses when buyers are on a $200,000 budget.
According to Law, HomLuv’s AI-based algorithm will take over when it comes to figuring out how a home they like can be created within budget and based on the preferences that homebuyers have selected.
The new site has four basic functions:
- It allows users to browse photos of new houses, rooms and exteriors.
- From those pictures, you choose your favorites.
- You can share those with your significant other to get his or her opinion and perhaps narrow your choices.
- Then the site matches the most favored images to actual homes and their builders.
“We allow you to build your new home from the inside out,” Law said. “We inverted the process so it is more experiential.”
HomLuv currently has 1,100 builders on its site and nearly 12,000 new home communities. It also contains more than 88,000 buildable floor plans and 1.3 million images with all the pertinent listing details, most updated daily. More new homes, builders and communities are being added every day, Law said.
From images to a home
To get started, you might enter a specific location, say West Phoenix, for example. Then you choose the room that is most important to you, perhaps the kitchen. Up pop hundreds of images, and you pick the ones you like best and remove those you dislike, narrowing down the choices as you go along.
Next, you might pick the next most important room, the master bedroom, for example, and go thru the same process. And as you proceed, your choices are continually narrowed until you end up with a small group of your favorite houses, each listed with the builder, community names and listing data where each of those houses can be found.
Users can cast as broad a net as they like or as small. There might be a thousands new home communities in Houston, but you can drill down by a specific area, price range, school district or any of several other variables.
In field testing the product, HomLuv found that people are following three different “pathways.” Some are starting with key rooms, others are heading out to the community in which the house they built online is actually being built, and others are switching locations and price ranges as they work through the process.
Narrowing down choices through communication
The site also acts a neutral place where spouses can communicate and open a dialog about their likes or dislikes.
When Law and his wife used HomLuv to find the perfect house in Austin, where BDX is headquartered and where the couple is moving from Seattle, they talked about the photos they liked and didn’t like.
He had already relocated to Austin, but she remained in Seattle. For every half-hour he spent on the site, she spent one-and-a-half hours. She spent so much time because the process was so “immersive,” he said. “She pointed out things that I didn’t even notice,” helping them narrow their choices even more.
And the result? “We fell in love with several builders and excluded many others,” Law said. “But in the end, the no. 1 home recommended to us was the one we bought.”
Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.