The killer real estate app time forgot

In 1998, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation won an Inman Innovator Award for its "Personal Retriever" app. Personal Retriever delivered listings to consumers via email based on their search criteria.

There were companies doing this before Coldwell Banker — iHomefinder and SOAR Solutions come to mind — and hundreds have implemented it since. It’s usually called "email updates", "homes via email", or "listing alerts".

It was a killer app then; it is a killer app today. It was Web 2.0 before we even knew what that was.

Think about it. A listing alert app:

  • Distributes the content consumers desire most, based on user-defined criteria
  • Delivers this content to the user on their terms
  • Gives the user total control — they opt-out or change preferences at any time
  • Has value to buyers, but also sellers, nosy neighbors and investors
  • Creates engagement, surfaces preferences, and "incubates leads" for practitioners

It’s a win-win for consumers and practitioners — one of the real highlights of the online real estate story.

But … the vast majority of brokers — in fact, darn near all — have failed to implement this application well.  This killer app sits under their nose while they bemoan the lack of buyers, struggle to understand the Web 2.0 phenomenon, and persist in blanketing neighborhoods with postcards and newsletters. More accurately, it usually sits within their company Website, an elegant feature made grotesque with graphics, confusing language and pages optimized for the IT Guy.

The online players, on the other hand, have mastered the email alert form, even though they have less to gain from it. Take a look at how Trulia handles it. It’s a thing of beauty: Easy to find, simple to sign up, and  explained in plain language.

Why have brokers missed the mark?

  • Crappy vendors
  • Inertia
  • Distraction
  • Lack of internal marketing and tech resources
  • Complacency brought on by the dot-com crash and high-as-a-kite market

The good news, of course: This can be fixed. There are some great new vendors, including companies like Terabitz, Roost, and Diverse Solutions that have brought a new sensibility to the IDX world. Costs are falling. Good designers are legion.

It’s a matter of focus, of sweeping away the clutter that’s accumulated on your Website over the past few years. It goes something like this:

  • Scrap your old Website
  • Create a new one
  • Put IDX search on the home page. Make it dead simple (don’t call it "Quick Search" if it’s not quick)
  • Put a strong call to action for "Listing Alerts" at the top of every search results page
  • Make sign-up a matter of an email address and password
  • Apply best practices for deliverability and design to the email template (alt text, etc.) and put your contact information in a prominent call-out
  • Consider including relevant neighborhood information in the alert
  • Make opting out and changing criteria easy

The rest is marketing. Every ad in every medium should include a call to action to "Get property alerts direct from the MLS" (unless you live under the dominion of an MLS that won’t let you use "MLS"). Every agent in every open house should replace the business cards from the broker tour scattered on the kitchen table with a property alert sign-up form.

This is a back to basics endeavor. But it’s absolutely necessary. Any company looking to embrace Web 2.0 should make certain they also nail the real estate killer app time forgot.

Brian Boero

(disclosure: Terabitz is a 1000WATT Consulting client)