Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Social Media Meets House Hunting

Today I stumbled across real estate site and found it to be an excellent example of how Social Media tactics combined with a focus on consumer needs can create a strong user experience. It applies many of the essential concepts of Social Media, including:
  • Aggregating diverse content and data to create new value.
  • Providing a means for sharing and collaboration.
  • Providing functionality where and in the way the consumer wishes.
  • Create the means for a longer-term value-based relationship.
Trulia of course offers the basics you would expect of a real estate site: You can search for available homes and condos, view maps, define search criteria based on property type and value, and peruse lists of properties. This is fine functionality, but what makes it a great site is that they answered the question, "How can I improve this by making it social?"

Examples of great Internet and Social Media functionality on Trulia include:
  • Local News Feeds: Once you search for a property, the site automatically offers a localized RSS feed to which you can subscribe. Data includes the number of new listings in the past seven days, average listing price, median sales price, number of properties sold in the past 60 days, and the recent changes in price per square foot. This sort of data is extremely valuable for house hunters and creates ongoing engagement with the site. Click here for an example of the Local News Feed for Celebration, FL.

  • Property Alerts: Site visitors can stay abreast of properties on the market in a number of ways. They can subscribe to an RSS feed of properties based on city or neighborhood (here is the RSS feed for properties available in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward), searches can be saved for later Web recovery, and email alerts can be created so that consumers can be informed when new properties enter the market. You can even subscribe to a daily email alert on individual properties, keeping you informed when the property sells or changes price.

  • Personal Notes: As you search the site, you can add personal notes to properties that only you can view. (While this isn't very Social, it is helpful for home shoppers overwhelmed by the variety of property options.)

  • Trulia Voices: Visitors may ask real estate questions for others to answer. Questions may be identified by topic and location. These questions and answers are made available to site visitors as they view data about a city or neighborhood. Here is a question asked by a visitor who wants to know whether to escrow for her property taxes; two fine answers have been received thus far. Site visitors may save any question, register to be alerted when new answers are received, and easily add any question to social bookmarking sites such as A cloud of common keywords provides insight as to the topics that are hottest right now.

  • Create a Blog: For visitors so inclined, Trulia permits users to create their own blogs. You can write about your neighborhood or city, or you may focus on real estate topics such as Home Buying, Foreclosures, and Celebrity Homes. Here is a blog post written by a San Diego real estate professional that has received five comments to date.

  • School Info and Ratings: Properties are associated with local schools and school systems; data includes parent ratings and comments aggregated from GreatSchools, plus test scores, enrollment information, and the number of students per teacher. Click here to see the data compiled about Celebration High School.

  • Stats and Trends: The data available about cities and neighborhoods is really quite impressive. Visitors can compare neighborhoods based on average sales price, average listing price, price per square feet, and number of sales. You can also review statistics about income, crime, age of homes, and average travel time to work. Here is a slew of data on Milwaukee and the Historic Third Ward neighborhood.

  • Heat Maps: All of the data noted above can be viewed as a heat map, with colorful data overlays based on neighborhood or zip code.

  • Mobile Tools: Trulia offers a very functional application for the iPhone, Java phones, and Dash Express GPS. Enter a location on the Web site and they'll text you a link to a downloadable app that comes preconfigured for your desired search. (You can always change the search once it is on your phone.) The application pulls maps and data, providing an easy way to get helpful information while on house hunting excursions. Value-added features includes quick access to Yahoo Local and Yelp data, so finding nearby businesses and accessing consumer ratings is quick and easy.
There are ways Trulia might have made their experience even more social, but the site is notable for the Q&A, blog, data aggregation, RSS, email, and mobile tools they offer. If you're searching for a house (or just interested in a great user-focused Web site), visit Trulia.

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