When Mark Law took his job as the vice president of product innovation for HomLuv, it necessitated a move to Austin from Seattle. His wife was still in Seattle, in fact, when the couple also became one of HomLuv’s earliest users.
HomLuv.com is a visual search platform for new home buyers that takes the joy of Pinterest and Houzz and the practicality of your budget to make a tool that takes some of the hardest parts of picking a home builder and makes them disappear.
“We found that many people will use Pinterest and other sites and they’re putting million dollar photos of rooms they like, and then they are disappointed when they can’t get it because it’s out of their budget,” Law said.
HomLuv is different because users can log on to the site (which went live today) and page through pictures of kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, and even garages — all filtered by the prospective homebuyer’s budget, square footage desires, number of bedrooms wanted, and more.
As they page through, users can heart (or select a black heart for dislike) a picture. And while they’re looking at photos, HomLuv’s crowdsourcing tools and algorithms calculate what builders you most match with, and provides users with a visual list of home builders that can build their perfect home in the location they want, and in their budget.
The company says their product works in four ways:
- Explore: HomLuv shoppers start by entering the location they want to live, anywhere in the nation, followed by a few traditional search criteria such as number of bedrooms, baths, and price range.
- Luv: Shoppers are introduced to interior and exterior images of new homes—from master baths to man caves and craft rooms to kitchens, in myriad styles from traditional to ultra-modern. When a shopper sees something she likes, she pins it to her board and begins to create a canvas of her favorites. HomLuv’s AI engine then begins presenting more ideas that match her tastes.
- Collaborate: Co-buyers can share their boards to see where their favorites overlap, and where they diverge. And shoppers can also invite designers, friends, and family to view their boards.
- Recommend: HomLuv learns shopper preferences, ultimately matching them with builders in their specific location who can complete their vision.
“You’re one click away from knowing everything about that home and that builder,” Law said. And since the builders have provided their price ranges, the recommended homes will match the user’s price points.
“The price points are here,” Law said. “They can really pick a home from all these homes.”
When Law and his wife were house hunting from separate locations, HomLuv became an important tool.
“We used the site to buy a house in Austin,” Law said, adding that an important aspect of the platform — a collaborative element that allows co-homebuyers to weigh in on each other’s likes and dislikes — gave them the ability to continue the conversation about their prospective home despite the distance.
That ability to objectively — and separately — evaluate likes and dislikes actually kept emotion out of the collaborative process, Law said they found during testing.
There were no arguments about what couples could afford when it came to finishes or styles because they were being shown options within their budgets.
“People laughed when they had disagreements with broken hearts (broken hearts indicate that one person disliked the photo while another liked it),” Law said. “There was less stress.”
And because Law and his wife were able to collaborate on what b new home would look like easily, the homebuying process was actually fairly easy.
“My wife printed out our collages and then took them to the builder when we met with them,” he said. “When we walked in with the printed pictures, the salesperson was stunned.”
And it wasn’t just pictures of their likes, either. “She walked in with pictures of what she disliked, too — she walked in with her challenges,” Law said. “It felt like she was more in control of the process.”
And because the HomLuv.com platform made it so easy, it took her 30 minutes inside the home to know it was the one she wanted.
And of course, with every liked, disliked or ignored photo, HomLuv.com is able to pull quite a bit of data and information as well.
“We can look at a picture and see that a room with light green walls and brown curtains, but the data we get tells us that this room gets a lot of dislikes, or that people are completely ignored it, or that they loved it. We can track that.”
That information will come in handy for all kinds of people associated with the homebuying and home selling industries.
“In aggregate, we can create analysis and create reports,” Law said (HomLuv is a division of Builders Digital Experience, a marketing consortium of homebuilders), explaining that those reports on things like the paint colors that are being liked the most, for instance, could help inform Realtors, homeowners and especially homebuilders and the designers that work with them so they can make better decisions when it comes to selling homes.
“If we can do anything better to connect consumers to builders, then we should,” he said.
And even more, it may encourage even more creativity among home builders, too.
“Probably for the first time, the builders realized that kitchens, for instance, for one builder are going to be compared alongside other builders,” Law said. “I’ve actually had builders comment that they’re going to have to up their game on images especially to be ready for that.”
In the testing phase, Law said there were a few surprises — and some of those surprises resulted in tweeks to the product.
For instance, Law said, “Men wanted a garage filter.” So now users can include garage size in their search terms.
Another filter request that came up in testing? “People felt really strongly about whether the master should be up or down,” Law said.
Perhaps one of the more surprising things discovered by the development team as they tested the product was that despite the fact that almost every single home site — real estate, home builders, etc. — shows the exterior of a house first, “nobody picked exteriors as a way to search for a home,” Law said. In fact, sometimes the exterior photo shut down interest on the entire house before the tester even looked at the rest of the home.
Most common search? Kitchens, followed by bathrooms, bedrooms and living areas — in other words, people care more about the interior of the home than the exterior elevation.
“We are reversing the entire process from the inside out,” Law said.
How people interacted with the product also surprised Law sometimes. “‘We thought more people would want to go heart photos and collaborate with their spouse, but one person even filled out the lead generation form immediately — in testing,” he said.
He said they also found that the format was user-friendly enough that even the less tech-savvy testers felt comfortable. And even better, it seemed that everyone that tried the product understood the concept of how the homebuilders suggested for them were chosen by the algorithm.
“When we presented people nine homebuilders, they clicked on all of them, and went through the home, looked, hearted it or ignored it,” he said.
Law said that users can also feel confident that the builders recommended by HomLuv are not only matched to their budget and likes and dislikes, but also that they’re reliable.
“Every builder in our product has been around for a long time, and are licensed,” he said, adding that more than 1,000 builders are associated with the consortium that owns HomLuv.
“We’re working with very reputable builders across the country,” he said.
And while there are builders with bad reputations out there, Law said that it’s unlikely they’d ever make the cut to even appear in HomLuv’s offerings. “I would suspect you’re not going to see that, because those people don’t last very long,” he said.
But most importantly, Law said that the user-driven nature of HomLuv puts prospective homebuyers firmly — and confidently in the driver’s seat in ways that Pinterest and Houzz-type sites can’t.
“What we’re doing is trying to start with your most favorite room in a house,” he said. “If you go to Pinterest, you can see lots of great kitchens, for instance, but it tells you nothing about the house or the kitchen.”