Dear Real Estate Tech Entrepreneurs: Hey, The Buy-Side Is Done, Guys

I’m going to take a conservative estimate and say that once every few weeks, I get some PR agency emailing me with some news of a fantabulous, world-changing, paradigm-shifting (God, I love those Web 2.0 words, like paradigm), baldness-curing new technology around… you got it, home search.

This is not at all an atypical example:

#RealEstate Entrepreneur, Avantika Shahi Launches Revolutionary #HomeSearch Platform 

Haus is revolutionizing the real estate market by providing homebuyers the unique experience to tailor their search for the perfect home according to their lifestyle.

The company has partnered with HowLoud to incorporate sound as a lifestyle characteristic, making it the first west coast portal to add quiet/noise level to lifestyle search.

Neighborhoods and lifestyle elements are incredibly important to consumers searching for homes online, yet there is currently no easy way to search combining physical and lifestyle elements for the home and neighborhood.

In comes Haus!

The company’s matching algorithm grades homes for buyers based on a combination of personalized community, lifestyle, and home search criteria. In other word, Haus takes the surprises out of house hunting and finds your perfect match. Think of it as the online dating site of the real estate industry.

OMG! Online dating site of the real estate industry! Takes the surprises out of house hunting! Finds your perfect match!

Then you get this cute video:

This post isn’t just to bash Haus, though there may be some light love-tapping applied. I’m sure they’re lovely people, really smart, the founder seems like a wonderful lady who “married the love of her life” with “two sets of twins” (TWO sets, you say? No pharmaceuticals were involved in that, I’m sure) and so on. But they had the misfortune of emailing me when I’m in… this sort of mood.

For the TL;DR crowd with the 21st century attention spans, here’s the point:

The buy-side problems have all been solved, people, until we get a new technology platform that changes everything. And no, “lifestyle search” is not that platform. Think more like, “internal combustion engine” or “laundry machine” or “personal computers” and “the internet”. So stop trying to “innovate” on the buy-side of the equation, y’all. Start thinking much, much harder about the sell-side of the equation.

The Yawn-Inducing N0-Drama of Home Search

The idea of searching for homes on the internet was sexy and OMGasm inducing back in like… 2006, y’all. Over the past ten-plus years, the well-funded, heavily-capitalized, serious geek-engineer-having companies like Realtor, Redfin, Trulia, and of course, Zillow have kind of refined the living shit out of home search. And whatever they missed, entrepreneurs from IDX vendors to brokerage website agencies to in-the-garage startup types made incremental improvements and were immediately (a) copied by the big boys, or (b) bought out by the big boys.

So Haus is bringing a “revolutionary”#HomeSearch “platform”? Though wholly uninterested, I went to the website to see this revolutionary technology for myself.

OMG! A search box! Catch me as I swoon!

Honestly, the only somewhat unique thing about this homepage is the fact that Haus is clearly targeting gay adoptive-dads. Not exactly the largest segment of the homebuyer population (especially adopting a white girl!) but, hey, whatever floats your boat, Haus!

Quite literally everything else on this page is something I’ve seen over and over and over again for the past several years. I mean, seriously, is it somehow unknown to the real estate industry that schools might be important? Or that buyers are curious about neighborhood information?

So I move on to the so-called “lifestyle search” component:


That’s it? THAT is all you got? With all the hype, all the promotion, all the revolutionary platform shit, I want a real lifestyle search: “My lifestyle includes giving piggyback rides to hot chicks while strolling on the beach; now show me homes.”

You’re gonna give me goddamn sliders in 2016 and call that a “lifestyle search”? We were talking about this back in 2004 when I worked on It sucked then, and it still sucks now. Why? Because moving sliders around is not “lifestyle search”. Lifestyle search is “I really like giving piggyback rides to hot blondes while walking on the beach” and as yet, nothing exists technologically to handle that.

Real Lifestyle Search

What makes me laugh even more is that the real estate industry has had lifestyle search perfected for the past forty or so years. It’s called, “a real estate agent”.

If I wanted to move to a new area, I’d call up a local real estate agent who either shares my lifestyle or could understand it, then have a one-on-one and go through my lifestyle requirements. Then have him do all the work. That’s my preferred search engine, because I’m a lazy bastard and really have no desire to make finding a home a part-time job for six months.

Other people really love house-hunting though, the way some people love going to outlet malls and bargain-hunting through the racks. So I figure this is just a personality issue, since my preferred mode of shopping is to walk into Bergdorf Goodman, sit on a chair, and have the obsequious salesperson bring me outfits.

I digress. My point is that true lifestyle search, at this point on our technology curve, comes from talking to a knowledgeable local agent who understands my lifestyle and its needs. Moving sliders and having me score “10” on “Good School District” is silly; it’s theatre. (I am genuinely curious, though… is there someone who says, “Hell with good schools! I’m looking for really crappy schools with gangs roaming the halls.”?)

The Only Reason to Improve Search

There is only one reason to improve home search: cost savings due to automation. Let’s say that the next-gen technology (AI, mostly) gets mature. Say a buyer can call up some computer and do what I would do with a human agent, and the computer somehow figures out which homes to show me.

The only reason a consumer would want to do this is if he’s saving money somehow. If it’s cheaper for you, the brokerage, to have me use a computer that you don’t have to pay instead of a buyer agent that you do, then you should be saving me a ton of money somehow. Like, get rid of the buy-side commission and charge me $20 to use your fancy computer technology? Otherwise, I’ll use a human being, thanks very much.

The Real Problems That Need Your Attention

So, if you’re in real estate technology, or you’re in technology period and thinking about getting involved with this insane industry of ours, there are other places you should be looking at instead of home search. That problem has been almost entirely solved with the current level of technology.

The areas in real estate that need some technology loving are:

  • Sell-side
  • Mortgage
  • Finding an Agent

There are probably others, but those are what I can think of. Solve one of those, please. Realize that there’s precious little technology available if I’m interested in selling my house instead of buying one. Realize that the mortgage “process” sucks donkey balls and see if you can solve that problem. And finally, if my ultimate home search engine is to find the right local real estate agent who (a) knows his shit, and (b) lives or understands my lifestyle, then help me find one of those.

In particular, the opportunity now is for innovation on the sell-side, the listing-side of the business.



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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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22 thoughts on “Dear Real Estate Tech Entrepreneurs: Hey, The Buy-Side Is Done, Guys”

  1. The final inning then is closing the loop….offering consumers a value proposition that satisfies both their buying and selling needs.

    Thanks for the set-up ROB ????

  2. Rob
    haha, I feel bad Haus was the one that happened to email you on one of those days..

    I think the search innovation is stripping out all the bloat the industry has added to search over the past 10 years. But, in general, I agree… real estate search is not where real estate entrepreneurs should be spending their time.

  3. One problem with a “lifestyle search” is that it requires certain data to determine certain parameters.

    The fastest way for an agent to violate Fair Housing laws is to focus on the lifestyle of the “perfect” buyer for a given house rather than just the features. For example, one of their sliders is “Family Friendly”. Put that phrase in the mls remarks or ad for a property and just watch how fast you end up in court.

    Curious how they determine the family friendliness of a property.

    • Good points, Bob. I didn’t get into the whole “lifestyle search” issue because… well, that’s probably a series of posts.

      But for years, I’ve been suggesting that Fair Housing Act is outdated and needs an update. Certainly the current set of regulations are way beyond what the intent of FHA was and handcuffs the professional in providing a valuable service.

  4. Heh, heh. Those few brokers who have the respect to listen (or who have polite patience when I “corner” them) have heard me lament repeatedly over the past decade … there are so many folks out here who would love to find a good real estate agent … if they only knew where/how. Turns out, real estate websites are ‘not’ the place — yet.

    I relish Rob’s ability to put into writing what (to me) is obvious. It helps me communicate (by pointing folks to the posts) what to so-many others is no obvious.

    • We’ll have to get into the whole AI issue at some point in some depth. But that’s an example of new foundational technology that will introduce real innovation on the buy-side. We’re not there yet.

  5. Rob,

    I am blonde, I like beaches, I am willing to rediscover the joys of piggyback rides. Can I be your Realtor?

  6. “What makes me laugh even more is that the real estate industry has had lifestyle search perfected for the past forty or so years. It’s called, “a real estate agent”.”
    Can I get an AMEN!

    Thing is… consumers “think” they can get all the information they need from home searches, photos, maps, walkscore, lifestyle searches, ect… Nothing replaces the local knowledge of a real person. I just don’t think good agents (not the marginal ones;)) will become obsolete especially with all the complexity that keeps getting piled onto the transaction. We will see what happens over the next 5-10 yrs.

  7. When I first started reading and I came upon this part:

    “The company has partnered with HowLoud to incorporate sound as a lifestyle characteristic”

    I figured you had to be joking. C’mon, really? I’m going to search for my next home depending on “HowLoud” it is.


  8. Buying real estate is dependent on local market conditions and the inventory is fluid and ever changing on an hourly basis. It doesn’t matter how many times you change the sort-order, make “man cave” searchable, or enlarge the photos by a few pixels if there are only 10 homes that meet my preferences. There isn’t some secret inventory of homes out there waiting to be unlocked by a search algorithm. Search sites are ad-tech, not B2C e-commerce platforms. If anything, search sites increase transaction costs by introducing more leads into the market, they don’t reduce costs or increase efficiency, they add an additional layer of complexity.

  9. As a local real estate agent in Scottsdale Arizona currently working with a buyer on a $900,000 transaction and understanding that sellers should readily pay buyers agents their fees as they do all the work as an agent I can manage 20 listings with no problem but I can’t take care of 20 buyers needs. My real estate coach believes the buyer’s agent will go away because he was a listing expert I think he has it wrong listing agents will go away. Someone needs to pay buyers agents to put in the time with people drive them around and show them a number of homes that photos cannot tell the true story about the home.
    Many times the biggest disappointment about your experiences in their home search is going to a home that looks great in the photos but does not show well during the walk-through
    Since I am an agent I’m trying to keep up with the local trends but I just don’t see how you can completely replace a person when a home is most families biggest investment

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