Beyond These Four Walls - Turning Real Estate Search on Its Head

Guest blog post by Matthew Shadbolt, Director of Interactive Product & Marketing, The Corcoran Group, New York

Some thoughts on mobile marketing for real estate…

Many of us, over the past few years, have transitioned much of our advertising and marketing from print to online. Many of us still have not. I’d argue that most of us have not. But as that transition continues to take place, there’s another one going on simultaneously, that of a massive shift in web use from the desktop to the mobile device. Whereas advertisers used to upsell online with print buys, today they are doing the same with mobile as part of online buys. It’s a fascinating thing to watch.

When we say ‘being online’, it no longer just means clicking away at the big screen attached to the whirring box on your desk that’s plugged into the wall.

It means finding things near you, sharing where you are with your friends, video chat from the grocery store (“is this the one I should get?”) and so much more, but what’s common amongst all those use cases is that increasingly our use of the web is being informed by our location. Who better to capitalize on this trend than the real estate industry?

Last week, Corcoran launched an update to its popular iPhone app which allows you to search for homes in and around New York. One of the key differences in this app is the wealth of information that’s populated outside of the actual listing information. Corcoran calls this ‘going beyond the four walls’, and the concept is baked deep into its brand premise. It means sharing things to do nearby, places to go, restaurants to try, things to do at night – a better sense of what it’s really like there – can you get this from a shot of the outside of the property? Or the kitchen? Last week’s update added the ability for the user to now see local news for real estate, shopping and restaurant stories near properties, powered by Curbed, Eater , and Racked – 3 very popular blogs here in Manhattan.

You can read more about the project here on Corcoran’s Facebook page.

One of the main benefits that the phone brings to real estate searches is that it pushes the idea of contextual content around search. It begins to answer the question, ‘what is it really like to live there?’, and by providing a detailed, hyperlocal and comprehensive set of information, that has nothing to do with the specifics of the property but everything to do with living in a neighborhood, Corcoran’s app attempts to achieve this. Think about how this works versus how most online sites allow you to search for homes – it’s very poor in comparison. First, you usually have to ‘fill out’ a search page that consists of drop downs, checkboxes, perhaps even something as vague as a simple text entry box, then hit the all important ‘GO’ button. In mobile it can be automatic and simply ‘near me now’.

What gets returned, I believe, is not how people search for homes. Real estate search results usually consist of 2 things – pages and pages of list-based, thumbnail driven content, which forces the user to wade through the results in an unfocused way – this is the Google model of helping people find things, and that model is under some serious review this year. The second way is to plot those same results on a map. There’s been much talk recently about the effectiveness of map-based searches, and while they do provide some minor level of context in terms of ‘it’s near that road’, it still doesn’t answer the question, ‘what is it like to live there?’

The home buying process is at its core, an emotional one. Time and again, we hear our clients say “I bought with my heart, not my head”, or “I just knew as soon as I walked through the front door”. I’m not arguing that it isn’t a big financial consideration as well (of course it is) but do checkboxes and drop downs, or hundreds of properties plotted on a map, match what these people are telling us? Or is something like “here’s the latest news in the immediate neighborhood, combined with some great places to eat, some things to do, and a sense of what happens here at night” around each and every step of the process, a more person-centric way of doing it?

Of course, for the larger real estate portals, providing this curated, local and insightful information around every listing is a very difficult challenge to do at scale, and I fully accept that we are very spoiled for content here in Manhattan. But, the idea of ‘freeing’ real estate search from the desktop model, and putting it into people’s hands in a geographically specific way, which puts THEM in the middle of the map, I’d argue is a more effective and fun way of finding a home. Pair this idea with the filter of your network (perhaps through social media), and the Google model of search starts to evaporate rapidly. Being able to find homes based on your interests, hobbies, and goals, through the filter of your friends, is a very different experience from the ‘Enter your price range’ criteria so heavily used online, and mirrors that of how people truly find homes offline.

The best online experiences are the ones that most closely mirror offline ones. Facebook is great at keeping me in touch with my friends. Amazon allows me to get exactly what I’m looking for without wading through the shelves at the mall. These platforms solve problems. Who does the same thing in real estate? The first thing an agent does when they meet a customer is get to know them, not ask them the precise specifics of what they are looking for and dump hundreds of ‘results’ upon them. They curate the homes they show based on a thorough understanding of their client, combined with their expertise. Where is that concept online?

I argue that the mobile device will be the platform that solves this question for the real estate industry, simply because it has the ability to contextualize not only ‘results’, but what the customer is interested in, in a vastly better way than the desktop. We’re living in incredibly exciting times for our industry – some are embracing the changes and figuring out what needs to happen. Most are not. I call on you to spread the word.

To find out more about Corcoran’s app for real estate, visit www.corcoran.com/iphone or www.corcoran.com/android