Househappy says visual search is the future of real estate. I took a look around — and it’s beautiful. But is it effective?
What would you do?
Would you tear out all the charts, graphs, maps, lead forms, banner ads, analytics, calculators, other agents and flashing buttons and strip the listing down to just the essential information?
Would you make your user interface soothing and simple? Would you ensure that each listing ONLY shows the agent and/or broker who actually represents the listing?
Househappy.org • Visual Search Engine for Real Estate • Free
And would you make the whole site free for everyone to use, forever?
If that sounds exactly like what you’d do, then you need to head over to Househappy.org.
Because that’s where you can see for yourself what Kevin McCloskey, Househappy’s founder and CEO, thinks is the future of real estate search.
Beautiful and Simple
“The goal is to connect consumers with properties,” McCloskey explains. “What we care about is beautiful design and enabling people to connect with each other.”
McCloskey, a former real estate broker in California, Oregon and Washington, says he built the tool as much for himself as the industry.
At his own Portland, Ore., brokerage (which he’s now closed to focus on Househappy), he wanted to show off his listings online the way he wanted to — cleanly, with a picture front and center, with only his name on each property.
But he also wanted a way to match the right property to the right person.
He credits this idea to a friend who asked him to give her some feedback on her online dating profile on Match.com. On logging into the dating site, he realized that seeing the faces of all those prospective matches was a natural way to instantly see who you would be interested in. You didn’t have to read the profile unless you were enticed by the photo, and that made searching easy and fast.
It’s easy to imagine that McCloskey was fascinated when Zillow and Trulia came along. He was certain their search would be more visually oriented. But it wasn’t.
Instead, images were a small part of the listing presentation on every major real estate advertising portal. Dozens of other features, like calculators, maps and lead forms, overwhelmed the listing itself.
Now sprinkle those cluttered, poke-in-the-eye listings with a bit of competitive advertising for agents who aren’t attached to the listing at hand … and you can see why McCloskey, a design aficionado, just couldn’t stand it.
“Once Zillow and Trulia started monetizing search by selling ads it only became more ugly,” McCloskey explains. “I think it makes it harder for consumers to find the property they want, and to connect with agents and brokers.”
But even though McCloskey had his “Eureka!” Househappy moment on Match.com years before Zillow or Trulia came on the scene, it wasn’t until he moved to Portland in 2008 he really began to dive deep.
He worked on the startup in his off hours — and he kept wondering why no one had taken on visual search for real estate.
It was an accidental meeting at a bakery in Portland that finally pushed McCloskey over the edge. A conversation with a woman in line led to a meeting with a family that became his major angel investor, to the tune of $650,000. McCloskey raised another $250,00 from other investors as well, and closed his seed round in April, 2012.
McCloskey wound down his brokerage, then assembled a team of 10 programmers and creatives. He took the next 10 months to develop, and launched Househappy in March, 2013.
Easy to Use
Househappy is a pleasure to use, plain and simple.
The design is neat, clean and elegant. Upon entering the site, you’re presented with hundreds of thumbnails of properties. You can quickly zero in on thumbnails relevant to you by entering as much as you know about a location, whether that’s a specific address, city, state or zip code.
When you hover over a thumbnail, the property’s type, location and price appear. One click brings you into the details of the listing.
It’s easy to sort the listings in a specific search on Househappy by all of the common parameters, like property type, sale type, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and price.
One nicety is that you can also sort on more discrete (and some might say subjective) parameters, such as the home style, number of floors, or even specific features (hardwood floors or a Sub-Zero, anyone?).
Although I appreciated these extra parameters, some were so specific that they eliminated all potential search results. For example, when selecting the property type “neoclassic” in six major cities, I was unable to get any results under that search term.
You can also search based on financing or concessions the seller has offered. Options for financing include bad credit OK, no bank qualifying, owner financing, assumable loan, lease option, housing partnership, and possible trade.
Concessions include a reduced price, motivated seller, seller paid closing costs, or the ever popular “make me an offer.”
When any of these options were selected in Seattle, no results were returned, although a search without these terms yielded plentiful results.
It may be that the owners of the listings did not create their them with any of these attributes, and thus there’s no way to return results for them. It’s also possible that there just aren’t enough listings on Househappy right now that include these parameters.
I suspect that as the number of listings increases, these granular search terms will return results.
Once you select a property, a more detailed, tabbed view is presented. It’s super clean, and the thumbnail becomes the primary image.
The agent’s contact information is prominently featured on the opening tab, and there is nothing else on the page except details about the property. Viewers can see an agent’s profile by clicking on the agent’s name.
After years of looking at jumbled property detail pages on other sites, the visual simplicity is a big relief. You pretty much know what to do.
Under the thumbnail, you can see the number of views the property has had, as well as how many people have liked the listing. The site only counts views and likes from logged-in users.
You can also share the property to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, or send the listing via email.
Above the thumbnail, you can see the number of days the listing has been on Househappy. Clicking on a globe icon places the listing on a Google Map, although this opens a new window.
It’s worth noting that you can flag the listing as inappropriate or offensive, SPAM, miscategorized or prohibited. If your listing is flagged three times, it’s immediately removed from the site, and you’ll need to follow Househappy’s procedures to get it reinstated.
Because Househappy’s listings are manually uploaded for now, the property details tab is completely dependent on how much information is entered by the agent or broker. In my tests, the details tab was almost never fully populated for any property I reviewed.
The property features tab seemed to fare better, possibly because agents can quickly tick off which features the property has when they’re uploading the listing.
Househappy users can upload up to 20 images for each listing. The images are presented as square thumbnails, three across.
While the quality of the photography is entirely up to the agent, I found that I could quickly get a sense of a property even if the photography wasn’t great. I did wish, however, that the thumbnails could be blown up and assembled into a larger slideshow.
Robust Profiles, Tracking
When a consumer creates an account (which is as simple as entering an email and choosing a password), they’re also able to fill out a profile that connects to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. This enables easy sharing when a user is logged in to Househappy.
Consumers can also enter their contact details, upload a profile photo, indicate whether they’re a buyer or seller, and input other pertinent details concerning their prospective transaction. You can enter as much or as little as you want.
For example, Househappy asks self-identified sellers why they’re selling, and buyers what they’re looking for. Other questions include whom they’re working with (if they already have a relationship with an agent or broker) and how much of a down payment they have.
When a logged-in consumer likes a listing, a notification is passed to the corresponding agent or broker in their profile. This enables fast follow-up and insight into whether a listing is hot.
The agent simply clicks to see the profile of the “liker” — and if the profile is complete, it tells the agent what the client is looking for.
Agents can also use Househappy to prospect for FSBO leads. Since you can search the site by sale type, it’s easy to identify FSBO sellers and why they are selling by looking at consumer profiles.
I found it interesting that the profile creation tool blends the creation of all types of profiles together in a single screen.
To create a broker profile, you simply select “broker” as the profile type (instead of buyer or seller). Although most consumers probably wouldn’t select a broker profile for themselves, the fact that they can could lead to misrepresentation.
McCloskey says that the community will help manage inappropriate use by flagging it, but I still think it’s a concern as the site grows.
The upside, though, is that creating a broker profile is quite possibly the easiest process I’ve ever seen. In the spirit of Househappy’s minimalist style, all you need to enter is a bit about yourself, your website, experience and specialties (financing, property types, sale type and skills).
McCloskey envisions Househappy as a visual search site as well as a social network. That’s why there are also Househappy badges agents and brokers can place on their own sites — just like a Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter badge.
When a Househappy badge on an external site is clicked, the user is taken to Househappy to see all the listings from that agent or broker.
Easy to Post
It’s easy to upload a listing, although for now the process is completely manual.
It’s a simple, step-by-step process every agent will find familiar. However, since information isn’t pulled in from other sources, like your MLS, you need to take care to ensure that your data is accurate.
What’s particularly nice is that you can easily include specific property amenities, as well as neighborhood attractions, in the listing. This helps your listing get found when consumers search Househappy using the drop-down features menu on the home page of the site.
Another useful feature is the automatic creation of an HTML Craigslist post. Once you’ve completed your Househappy post, you can cut and paste the code for the post into your city’s Craigslist, and automatically create nicely formatted listing — for free.
You can also easily share your Househappy listing directly from the post creation tool to Twitter and Facebook.
Free, Now and Forever
McCloskey says that Househappy will always be free for consumers, agents and brokers. He plans to monetize the site by developing what he calls a “native advertising” program.
Over time, McCloskey will sell integrated, content-based advertising to home services providers and merchants that are in the vicinity of the listing. For example, a nearby Starbucks could be listed as an amenity within the listing, which would be a paid placement.
“There are more than 300 services that wrap around the purchase and ownership of a home,” McCloskey explains. “From local merchants that are within walking distance, to service providers like plumbers, electricians and movers, homeowners need all of it. So we’ll build the content about these vendors right into listings themselves.”
McCloskey says the future HouseHappy is a mash-up between ratings-fueled sites like Angie’s List and Yelp, and Pinterest for houses. The community will be able to rate vendors and services, keeping everyone honest.
“Our platform will enable even the little vendors to get involved,” McCloskey explains. The cost to advertise on Househappy will be so low that micropayments will be used.
However, there is one type of advertiser that McCloskey will never allow on the site: Other agents and brokers. His mission is to keep the site’s listings pure. Brokers won’t be able to pay for premium positioning, and agents can’t advertise on other agents’ listings.
This will be welcome news for agents and brokers who fret about placement and competition on Zillow and Trulia.
“I get joy out of helping people solve big problems,” McCloskey says. “And I know that the community will let you know if you’re doing it right. I’ll either be shot down or embraced.”
McCloskey says Househappy’s biggest goal is to bring more brokers on the site. For now, his team is contacting brokers on a one-by-one basis. They’re also using email heavily and a promotional partnership with Fidelity Title to get the word out about the site.
Since the site is free to use, the sale isn’t hard, although brokers do ask about why they should include their listings on yet another real estate search site.
The development team is also working up iOS and Android apps for smartphones and tablets — even thought the site renders perfectly in HTML5 across all devices today. McCloskey says that having the apps for consumers is as much about marketing as it is functionality. He expects the apps to deliver within the next 90 days.
“Not having an app in the app store isn’t good for our visibility,” McCloskey explains. “It’s one of the ways that we’ll drive traffic to the site, so it’s an important piece of our strategy to be there.”
McCloskey also says he’ll use his next round of funding to build out his business development team, and beef up his engineering group.
“In three years, I want us to have full awareness of Househappy in North America,” McCloskey says. “And then we’ll take on the rest of the world. We’ve already got listings in 196 countries, and we built Househappy to be international from the start.”
If visually stunning search is truly the way of the future, count me in. I really like the clean design and mission of Househappy to put agents, and their listings, front and center for free.
Whether or not it becomes the community-driven, all-in-one marketing platform McCloskey envisions remains to be seen. But in the meantime, we can all enjoy lovely listings like this Contemporary Luxe Villa in Spain — and there’s no reason not to give Househappy a test drive for your business today.