Map based search engine hotpads.com has won its fair share of awards for online innovation over the past year. The website was launched in November 2005 by three college roommates from the University of Notre Dame.
Initially it covered rentals only, but in November 2007 added for sale listings and included vacation listings earlier this year. hotpads.com has grown to include around 3 million homes for sale and more than 350,000 rental listings.
propertyportalwatch.com spoke to co-founder Douglas Pope about the history and future of the website.
What does hotpads.com offer that other real estate search engines don’t?
hotpads.com features a full screen map based search engine developed from the ground up. This allows us to customize the search experience for the housing shopper, allowing them to search by real estate's most important attribute, location. We list both rental and for sale housing, so we are applicable to a larger audience. This also allows us to be pretty strong in the first time home buyer category because in our buy vs. rent search our users are able to compare rental homes and homes for sale in the same search results based on monthly payment.
What do you think were the factors that helped hotpads.com grow?
hotpads.com was started by three college roommates a year out of school. We have grown organically through word of mouth. Because we do both rentals and for sale homes, people are more likely to tell their friends and family about hotpads.com. Housing shoppers come to hotpads.com for two reasons, 1) our search technology and 2) our depth of listing coverage...not necessarily in that order. We have over 350,000 rental properties available and 3 million homes for sale.
Can you tell us about the hotpads.com business model and how it has changed since the website first launched?
When we first launched in 2005 we were planning to do a "free trial" and then charge a nominal fee to list. That went by the wayside pretty quickly and now we have an advertising and featured listing model that works well. For those clients that want to drive extra housing shoppers to their listings, we allow them to purchase featured listings that do just that. Featured listings are served on an auction basis, so there is no set price for them. The more someone pays the more their listing will be featured. So, depending on a given marketing budget, a realtor or property manager can spend $0.50 a day or $3 a day or more and their listing will get the appropriate amount of attention.
You added vacation listings in March this year and were since honoured with a Webby award. What future plans do you have for the website?
We are constantly working on improving the search experience. We will also be launching some mobile applications and social functionality including user profiles in the near future.
How has the global economic downturn affected hotpads.com?
We make a great deal of our revenue from advertising. Advertising budgets are often the first things that get cut during an economic downturn, so 2008 was pretty slow for advertising but things have been picking up in the second half of 2009. I think the housing bubble and bust has helped housing websites in general. The housing market has been a major part of the national dialogue in recent years, and that has helped traffic even if the number of overall transactions are down.
What challenges are you facing with hotpads.com?
We face the same challenges of any site. We always need more traffic and need to monetize that traffic better. But, in particular, for a site that gets 1 million visitors a month...there are a lot of people that don't know about hotpads.com. So, we need to get out and build our brand more.