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HomeLight: The Next Big Scary Real Estate Thing?

By Phil Butler | November 15, 2012

In real estate tech news Google Ventures backed HomeLight made its debut the other day for unbiased agent recommendations  Will buyers and sellers see HomeLight as a Realty TripAdvisor? Or, is digital suggestion a thing of the past? If transaction performance is a key, HomeLight may be the next big thing. It may be a bit scary too.

HomeLight landing page

HomeLight landing page

Launched out of beta testing, HomeLight must look like an online real estate child star to Google Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Innovation Endeavors, and other undisclosed investors. The landing below, suggests a bit of something different in the real estate space, that's sure.

The $1.5 million invested is probably money well spent for the angels, especially given the poor showing across the market online. We have discussed many times the relative weakness of agent sites, even so called aggregators in the real estate niche. Social media wise, in the traditional web visibility arena, agents just don't cut it where taking advantage of the web goes.

Minimalist, and utilizing what some call the "Hollywood effect" of massive imagery, fast load time, and so forth, it's as if HomeLight read every article I ever wrote about homepage engagement. And then the "drill down" - HomeLight has only tapped the big markets so far. Searching my hometown, Charleston, SC, I get the overall map (very nice) and the typical "we're sorry" message. So much for finding Charleston's best agents (but I already know them).

A super easy navigation and filtering system underlies the landing page for HomeLight though. Anyone will love this site when compared to cookie cutters from the dot-com era, those cluttered remnants of a time when the web did not even understand digital. Moving on though, a nice refinement for the developers would be to make this map interactive (which it is not now) so that a failed search will reveal close by pins of Realtors. In the case of Charleston, Beaufort or Savannah even.

Moving on, users can type in, for instance, Atlanta. Next the system prompts users to select a neighborhood (below) which is good. But, while there is an "all neighborhoods" selection, I am not so sure targeting and focusing so narrowly as a default is the best idea ever. While Google maps and geo-centric local stuff can be optimized like this, more people may prefer seeing all of Atlanta?

Okay, the system just got too aggravating. Click number (where am I now?) three I think, takes me to a choice of buying or selling. All that minimalist glee and "easy button" charm is, I feel, slipping away now.

HomeLight drill down

About three or four clicks in - HomeLight still wants answers

I swear, if a HomeLight CTO or whoever comes to tell me the system is trying to seamlessly "discover" user needs, I will digitally crucify them. How is it that highly skilled, rocket scientist developers, how is it that.... wait, I just clicked "buy" - now I see some really crappy agent images AND ANOTHER QUESTION! Is all this going into Google's home-buyer profiling algorithm?

"Condominium", I chose condominiums so that the folks could profile me. Now they want to know if I can afford really cheap stuff or really expensive stuff. Are you with me here? Interestingly, at this point, I get to profile my prospective real estate agent. In the screen below you'll see choices like "shark", used car salesman type, leg breaker, and of course "gray beard dinosaur" - all fun aside, "Has lots of experience" is a stupid choice. If the user chooses "wet behind the ears" is said user categorized as "easy mark" or something?

Finally! The user gets to see some agent profiles. On a positive note, I like the way HomeLight presents said agents. It looks as if the developers are setting up for a move to mobile, big time. More on that later, but again the waiting world is asked to trust a system here. The top 2% of sales variable uses to produce, for instance, Susan A. Thompson, is apparently based on her having sold 18 condos in or around Atlanta. But I chose "spends a lot of time with me" as criteria?

Now I feel all negative. Honestly, this review started out as a news bit, and is ending up a full fledged beta test. Maybe that says something for HomeLight's user engagement? Still more critique is necessary though. Looking at this particular agent's sales record, it seems as if my "price" choice has been fairly well ignored by the system. Ms. Thompson's sales are in the $200,000 range, I chose higher for another purpose.

The agent profile section of HomeLight actually has massive potential. Graphs, lots of white space, easy buttons, and a lot of room for improvement, the user interface is the best I have ever seen. Now HomeLight should issue some guidelines and suggestions for agent presentation. Ms. Thompson's profile looks nice, but explaining how come there are two people in the pic? Maybe I am a stickler for stupid details, I am not sure.

Which one is Susan?

Which one is Susan?

Just to be fair (or even more picky), Bradford Smith is in the top 0.8% agents in Atlanta, according to HomeLight. His profile picture is fuzzy, he loves everything about Atlanta (even the crime), and he wants his clients to rave about him even though no one can email him or enjoy a nice picture. Sorry, but this is getting monotonous. Since I am here:

  • Debbie G Sonenshine - nice picture - she hates email - someone from Kashmir wrote her dogma
  • Andre Dewinter - GQ on the picture - he is accessible - and smart customer testimonials
  • Michael Schiff - is in the system, that's about all
  • Robin Blass - Image okay - she hates email too - Robin has decent profile text - not from Kashmir

There are other profiles within the system for my search criteria, I listed those above to illustrate one thing only. When your name goes onto the digital web, all the things associated with it, with you, are indelibly branded onto it. The web I mean. Even Google cannot erase remnants of anything you say or release. A skilled technical person, or just a search expert, can find out about you, you business, and so on. Forever. (until the system melts anyway). So what, you say?

If I have to explain, you won't understand anyway. A final constructive critique of HomeLight's system. If I choose "is a tough negotiator" I get the same agents. Excuse me, but the three criteria are profiling stereotypes. Someone who chooses "Is a tough negotiator" is likely an "alpha" personality. "Is experienced" can be surmised to point to social-analytic types (depending), and "spend a lot of time with me" is clearly targeting social-emotional people. Let me be clear in the conclusion on this.

The pictures may be blurry but the intent is not

Blurry pictures and intentions?

While I cannot say categorically that the system is geared "profile" users, certainly there are elements that seem to go beyond using user data to "focus" user query results. It is one thing to find out what people like, and then serve it to them. However, finding out "who" people really are, this is quite another. While more refined buyer-seller profiles would certainly be a fantastic "lead generation" facet, there's still issues to consider in the ways in which companies get data. Studies along these lines are authoritative and relatively common these days. Consult this Chicago Journals paper on Franklin B. Evans, noted business and economics guru. Enough said about my opinion on this.

As for HomeLight the useful buyer-seller-agent conduit? It is the best I have seen, where potential goes. If the investors and developers do this one right, the world has a new real estate resource to turn to. I was highly critical here, and for good reason Developments that see favored position by the likes of Google and these others, their obligation is to meet and exceed anyone's expectations. This is my view. And, if HomeLight has any intention of excelling beyond selling this to Google or whoever, they will take note.

Editor's note: If you want to profile me, just ask me for my Myers-Brigs test results, my Mensa membership scores, even the opinions of me X-Wives, for me it is all about transparency. This post is opinion, and not necessarily that of RealtyBizNews or anyone associated with the author.

Phil Butler is a former engineer, contractor, and telecommunications professional who is editor of several influential online media outlets including part owner of Pamil Visions with wife Mihaela. Phil began his digital ramblings via several of the world’s most noted tech blogs, at the advent of blogging as a form of journalistic license. Phil is currently top interviewer, and journalist at Realty Biz News.
  • 2 comments on “HomeLight: The Next Big Scary Real Estate Thing?”

    1. A realty TripAdvisor sounds like a really good idea, with advice on locations, reviews from people in the local community, etc. In fact it sounds a little bit like a better version of Google places, which everyone knows works well. It also sounds like a more specialised version of Linkedin with people connecting to sell/buy or even discuss real estate options.

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