Buyers expect more from the online home-searching experience
Online property search platforms are now the first place that most of us turn to when we are looking for a new home. Yet the vast number of listings provided by these platforms results in the problem of overchoice, and finding the right property remains far from easy. Traditionally, home-buyers would turn to real-estate agents, who understand the local market and engage with the specifics of the buyer’s requirements. Today, that human element is missing on property search platforms. As a result, many home-buyers report that their online searching and browsing experience is impersonal and unproductive.
In this article we explore how leading platforms can excel in the face of tough competition, by making the shift from delivering mere listings to meaningfully guiding home-buyers in their big life decisions.
Guiding home-buyers with discovery, recommendation, and support
Real estate has seen an increasing shift online and home-buyers in most countries now have one or more well-established, high traffic home-search marketplaces to choose from. In fact, studies reveal that in the UK, a full 98% of potential home-buyers are using an online marketplace as one channel to look for their next home. Through these online platforms, potential buyers have access to a vast number of listings that they can browse from the comfort of their home.
Yet, there is one major challenge that still causes frustration – finding the right property. A US trends report concludes that 56% of people agree that this is the most arduous step in buying a home.
This is not entirely surprising. The first phase of the online revolution delivered breadth, convenience and price transparency. That approach has, however, done little to assist home buyers in finding the right match between the available properties and their requirements. What is largely missing is an element of personalisation into this matching process, which is traditionally one of the key roles that real-estate agents fulfilled. While property search platforms today are able to offer nationwide real-estate coverage and reach potential homebuyers with marketing ingenuity, “finding the right property” still remains a challenge for buyers.
Following the first phase of the online revolution (breadth, convenience and price transparency), we are now moving into the second phase, which is all about discovery, recommendation and support. This is where leading platforms are now focused – delivering a buyer journey experience that brings in many of the elements of human understanding and assistance. Let’s explore the steps involved in meeting today’s home-buyer’s expectations and remaining the destination of choice.
The human dimension
The benefits of an online marketplace are clear – they can offer a huge range of listings that the buyer can look through at their own pace, with the ability to view photos, video, descriptions, floor plans and more. But one of their key plus points is also a negative. The sheer volume of listings puts the buyer in a position where they become overwhelmed and have to do a lot of hard and time-consuming work to make progress on their search before they start seeing the properties that they would be interested in exploring further. The marketplace is only really assisting with a small (though important) aspect – listings. The buyer is left trying to evaluate the pros and cons of each of these properties, understanding the trade-offs they might need to make, with little to no help from the marketplace.
Estate agents have traditionally performed this “helper” role. A good real-estate agent can make the search process easier by supporting the buyer in their key decisions. They ask meaningful questions to understand what a home-buyer wants, pinpointing their preferences and identifying nuances that the home-buyer may not have even thought about. The agent builds comfort and trust because they are able to offer very personalised recommendations based on a deep understanding of the buyer’s preferences.
Providing a more human experience is a natural evolution of property search platforms.
Helping the buyer make smart decisions
The most advanced platforms utilise modern technology to provide the buyer with the type of assistance that an estate agent can offer. In particular, preference-based and AI-driven approaches deliver a significantly improved home-buying experience that enables it to be top of the game.
Let’s look at examples of some common marketplace home buying issues and identify how technology can help to bring the real-estate agent benefits to the online property search:
A family might be looking for a home in a good school district and may be willing to make certain sacrifices (e.g. having a smaller garden) to make this happen. This balancing of preferences is something an estate agent can pick up on during a conversation with the buyer.
Existing online marketplaces, however, will push the buyer into a filter-based search system to try to find this sort of property. The binary nature of a filter system struggles with such nuance. The buyer might be able to set a filter that is tagged as “near a good school”, but from there, they will have to put in the extra time and effort to look through the listings to see where the compromises may lie. They could select “No garden” to narrow their search, but this rules out any properties that are near a good school and do have a garden! This is one of the biggest frustrations for buyers using online marketplaces: The filter-based search system, by its very nature, rules out homes that check a lot of the boxes of the buyer.
This issue can be addressed by changing to a preference based search system. The buyer simply indicates that they want a home near a good school and also would like a garden, but sets their preference for a good school as more important than a garden.
The platform is then able to show them properties near a good school, with a garden if there are any, but without discounting those properties near a good school that are without a garden. They can extend this preference list as much as they want with additional requirements and desires, without the fear of eliminating properties that might be of interest to them. The platform balances the importances of their preferences and pushes the properties that best match their criteria to the top. Offering a system that allows the buyer to take control of their property search in this way leads to greater insights into the pros, cons and trade-offs within the available properties, and enables them to make smart decisions.
Bringing a virtual estate agent experience to the online marketplace
As highlighted above, the conversation between the buyer and a traditional estate agent is ever evolving towards a set of preferences and trade-offs that helps lead to the type of property the buyer is most interested in. As the buyer outlines their needs and wants, the agent will ask follow up questions to further understand their preferences.
AI, NLP and smart UX allow us to introduce a virtual agent that monitors the buyer’s search actions and interacts with them when they have smart suggestions that will help the buyer, much like the estate agent would. By offering pro-active, intelligent ways for the buyer to interact with the marketplace, their search becomes targeted to properties they would be more likely to follow up on.
This level of helpful interaction can be taken a step further. Often, when the buyer is looking through properties with a real-estate agent, they will see something they like, or dislike, that they hadn’t really been thinking about. They can simply say to the agent “Hey, that open plan kitchen is nice” or “I’m not keen on this one, it has on-street parking”. The agent takes a mental note of this before showing them more properties. Online though, if a buyer sees something they like or dislike, they are forced to then go hunting for the relevant filter for that feature (if it’s even available). A smart marketplace will make those features interactive wherever the buyer is focused at that point. They can quickly click the feature and set their preference without interrupting what they are currently doing or, if they want to go into more detail about that feature, open the virtual agent and get helpful suggestions and insights. Offering the ability to add features and get insights as they progress on their journey will encourage the buyer in the exploration phase of their search.
Advances in natural language understanding, AI and UX improve how the user interacts with a forward thinking marketplace to better explore their needs and wants. Of course, a human agent may be hard to beat in some situations, but technology is now at a point where a more insightful, exploratory search experience can be achieved at scale, bridging the gap between the benefits of the online marketplace and the human touch of the local real-estate agent. And this is what the most advanced and dynamic home-listing marketplaces are integrating into their platform – leaving their competition for dead.
Driving conversions & loyalty with more meaningful experiences
Every buyer has unique preferences for their home search and a limited set of strict on/off filters simply doesn’t meet today’s home-buyer expectations. Traverz has developed Conversational Recommendation technology that solves this issue at scale by introducing a preference system and virtual agent driven by cutting edge AI and UX. Traverz not only helps the home-buyer with flexible search capabilities but also saves them time and keeps them engaged in their search. The iterative, personalised and human-like interactivity allows home-buyers to make informed decisions that they feel happy about, building marketplace loyalty and greatly increasing clicks on the property contact forms.
Are you ready to leave your competitors behind?
Contact us to find out how Traverz can supercharge your property search experience!