Online real estate's dirty little secret

You’re looking for a steak for dinner, but you’re not sure which cut you’d like. You want go to the butcher and see what looks good.

Trouble is, the New Yorks are in one shop, the ribeyes in another. Flank steaks are sold from the back of a van in the alley. And they’re past their expiration date. Filets, inexplicably, are nowhere to be found.

Discouraged, you buy a chicken.

Pretty crummy shopping experience, huh? Unfortunately, this is how home search works far too often. It’s online real estate’s dirty little secret.

What passes for acceptable, even marvelous, in the world of home search is really quite poor. At the search session I moderated at Real Estate Connect, most participants seemed resigned to the fact that buyers use several sites when looking for a home, hopscotching between storefronts to find what they want.

I have harped on this before. But I keep coming back to it. It’s too important.

Because many of the leading online real estate sites have opted to source listings directly from brokers, rather than becoming brokers themselves and displaying listings via IDX, there are many gaps in the inventory they display. Consumers are either unaware of this issue, and make life-changing decisions with incomplete information, or throw down their stone and start hopping.

New companies have attempted to solve this by either becoming  brokers (Estately, Sawbuck Realty) in order to get IDX feeds, or working on behalf of brokers to set up IDX sites (Roost, Terabitz) to set up IDX sites.

This is encouraging. But brokers, what gives? Seriously. I know: The big online sites have money. SEO juice. Engineers. But you’ve had IDX all along. Which means, in most markets, that you have all the listings, fresh from the MLS. You may also have a powerful local brand, feet on the street, and a desperate need to stop relying on costly print advertising to drive consumer engagement.

Why are sites with something less than what consumers really want – a clean and complete view of the homes for sale – kicking your butt?

In the past year, I hear more and more people saying “Listings are now a commodity.” This makes no sense on its face, but even if it did, listings searches are certainly not. And brokers could win on this score in their markets. A clean, simple IDX search, marketed properly, could do wonders for a brokerage operation.

Making that happen is not as complicated as it was even a couple years ago. It would go something like this:

1. Destroy existing Y2K-era website
2. Partner with one of the new breed of IDX providers
3. Have a designer create a new custom website design
4, Merge the IDX solution and the new design
5. Add a roster of your agents, and a clear and immediate means of contacting them
6. Add basic information on your firm, with contacts for your office(s).
7. Include a call to action to “Search all the listings in [your market here] at [your URL here]” at every one of your brand touch points, from your office window to the jerseys worn by the local little league team you sponsor.

That’s it. Resist the urge to clutter this with bromides. Be clear, repetitive, and true.

The big online sites have their place, but I am starting to think that place is not to provide serious — and by that I mean actionable — listings search.

That lies with the broker, like it always has.

— Brian Boero