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RISMEDIA, August 24, 2010—A few weeks ago I came across an article where a broker was touted for going beyond the sale of a home and focusing on the lifestyle needs of their clients. I was hooked until I finished the article with an understanding of how her brokerage uses online marketing and home warranty incentives—but no knowledge on how they “sell lifestyle” and no proof on their site that as a buyer, my personal needs are in mind. Meanwhile, the firm’s specialty and attention is supposedly lifestyle needs, which prompts an important question for all of us.

What is lifestyle?

As an industry, we’ve been slow to apply lifestyle to the evolving real estate business model which proves time and time again that most consumers begin their home search online. Truly marketing properties and neighborhoods by lifestyle online should be no different than a way an agent would approach a sales engagement. What type of commute are you looking for? How important is it to live in a great school district? What would you like to have within a short drive or walk from your home?

The best agents know that their clients want their concerns, preferences and fears to be understood. But the unfortunate reality is that even the most innovative real estate websites are not designed to foster that kind of conversation.

According to the NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, quality of neighborhood and convenience to work are two of the most important purchase factors. Convenience to shopping, great schools and entertainment are high on most people’s lists. Meanwhile, most real estate sites and mobile apps don’t even allow for such searches.

Where are we?

Traces of lifestyle search offerings are slowly appearing on real estate websites, but have yet to put broker and consumer needs up front.

Some offerings that are built as destination sites with a pay-per-listing model end up driving site traffic away from the broker/agent site. Great for the destination, but what about your destination?

There are widgets that are dubbed as lifestyle search that are site enhancements rather than blockbuster neighborhood/home match experiences. Some may show nearby points of interest and public records, but are not incorporated with IDX listings, which is a fundamental mistake for real estate companies looking to sell homes as a result of their technology investment.

The latest widgets we’ve seen are also disconnected with how buyers make their decisions. After all, no one would move to a neighborhood simply because a school or restaurant is nearby; buyers want to know the area is known for high performing schools or highly rated restaurants, among many other critical criteria.

Assessing the role lifestyle search plays in your business comes down to a simple question: is your site designed to match the needs of your prospects to your inventory or not?

How can real estate companies truly incorporate lifestyle today?

Enhancements like nearby businesses, walkability, population segmentation and recent home sales are some great bits of the equation. However, there are numerous dimensions that are simply missing altogether. The goal should be to enable an engaging “conversation” on your website. To help the consumer weigh wants and needs against each other. That’s what we’ve set out to accomplish.

The Lifestyle Search Engine from Onboard Informatics helps real estate brands create a unique and comprehensive search experience on your site that allows consumers to find their “best place to live” —before they fall in love with a home in an area where the taxes are too high, the schools aren’t great, or that doesn’t have the amenities they need. Lifestyle Search Engine streamlines the home search process, allowing users to select and weigh the criteria important to their search up front, essentially following the same process real estate professionals walk prospective buyers through every day. This provides the ability for consumers to answer questions like “What’s more important, great schools or a short commute?”

The path to lead incubation and brand loyalty in today’s market starts with powering your website with the tools that can build brand engagement and trust at once. This engagement has to lead consumers down a logical path where they feel in control and able to have their needs met and questions answered.

We have made strides, but the leaders of the real estate industry already know that one size does not fit all.

Scott Petronis is the Senior Director of Product Management at Onboard Informatics. He has over 15 years of experience managing B2B applications, SaaS, APIs, Web-based and mobile applications and content services designed to drive client business. Scott is a thought leader on real estate consumer trends and technologies that meet the needs of buyers across all lifestyle and life stage segments.

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