The tagline ‘Real Estate is Local’ is often echoed by those in the Real Estate industry. Consumers are not only buying a house but they are ‘investing’ in the surrounding neighborhood as well. They often look to see if there are others with kids the same age as theirs, what the closest schools are, and where are the places to eat. All of these things are part of a neighborhood’s make-up. In an article posted by Matt Carter on Inman News, Name your neighborhood: the new wave in real estate search, he discusses the growing importance of neighborhood search. While more and more real estate portals/brokerages are trying to implement this type of search, the concept is far from new. Onboard has for years talked of the need to provide consumers with the right type of information. This includes giving them insight into the local community, or neighborhood. Onboard clients Washington Post and Redfin are a few examples of clients of ours that use neighborhood boundaries on their websites. Others, like Prudential Douglas Elliman and NY Post provide neighborhood profiles using neighborhood level demographics, as opposed to the usual zip code level demographics.
Matt Carter pointed out how not everyone is in agreement on what the actual boundary of a neighborhood might be. Washington Post is a perfect example of this. They prefer to define their own boundaries since they feel they have the local knowledge. Onboard is able to easily geocode their boundaries and provide the matching community information. This site allows the user to research the neighborhoods and see the polygons laid out on a map all together. When searching for houses in a neighborhood on Redfin’s site the user will see the distinct outline of that neighborhood. Their listings are then shown within that neighborhood. Both use boundaries for slightly different reasons but are highly effective.
Another option is to allow users to ‘find’ what neighborhood is best for them. This is especially helpful in bigger cities or when home buyers are moving to new areas. They may know what they want in a neighborhood but may not know where to look. Giving users the option of selecting from a set of lifestyle criteria will result in a much better search experience.
Neighborhood boundaries are really only the tip of the iceberg. Brokerages and real estate websites have many options when they consider their website strategy. Implementing neighborhood boundaries means you must also have the appropriate neighborhood-level demographic, school and market information. Users will want to know how many single-family homes are in the area, what the crime rate may be, which schools are in the immediate area and also what some recent home sales have been. For those that do not want to implement a map search on their site they can easily tag their listings with the neighborhood and link that to the relevant content.
The advantages of allowing users to search by neighborhood are extensive. You can improve your SEO while becoming the neighborhood expert. It’s no longer acceptable to just provide basic census data at the zip level on websites. Realtor.com and Zillow, who both offer their users neighborhood level search, are the top two sites in US internet usage for the Real Estate category, according to a Hitwise February 2010 report. Combined they account for 10% of the market. The Top 20 contains a number of other sites that have one or more neighborhood features on their site, including #3 Yahoo! (profiles), #6 Trulia (Search, boundaries and profiles) and #20 Redfin (search, boundaries and profiles). Consumers are very savvy and will ultimately go elsewhere to find the information they are looking for if your site does not offer it.
Image Credit: WoodleyWonderWorks on Flickr.com