Personalisation is a big trend among real estate portals around the world at the moment - especially personalisation done through AI. While the value proposition for portals has traditionally been: ' let us show you every available property', new businesses are springing up with the value proposition which goes something like: 'instead of clicking around and having to filter through everything out there, just tell us what you want and we'll find it for you'.
There is no property niche for which personalised service is as crucial as in the luxury sector. We spoke to James Nightingall, founder of HomeFinder, a real estate platform that promises to 'end the scrolling' for people looking for luxury and new-build properties in the UK...
Hi James. How would you define HomeFinder?
HomeFinder is an online serviced marketplace for new builds. The easiest way to find new homes and developments for sale.
What is HomeFinder’s USP?
Every client is assigned their own private HomeFinder who finds their dream home – we want to end the scrolling! Our HomeFinders can find you the best prices and even access properties before they go onto the internet.
What is HomeFinder’s biggest challenge?
Coping with buyers’ demand! We need to hire more HomeFinders. Since the soft launch in October 2021, we have had over 350 buyers registered to find a new home.
We are soon looking for pre-seed investment to accelerate growth and offer the service in more locations. HomeFinder is part of the Geovation accelerator program which has allowed me to start the business with equity-free grant funding. The Geovation Accelerator Program is backed by Ordnance Survey and HM Land Registry.
What is the most common request from clients?
First-time buyers using the Help to Buy scheme love our service. Buyers receive personalised suggestions from our experts and unique data. Most of our clients prefer to request viewings on the weekends. We arrange everything for buyers so they only need one point of contact.
HomeFinder offers access to ‘off market’ high-value homes, usually over £5m that are not listed on the property portals. We have an incredible database of properties in London.
What is HomeFinder currently working on?
We are building a data collection of homes like no other portal. From this data we use deep learning technology to find homes for our buyers. We are adding more filters (e.g. south-facing apartments) behind the scenes to help people find their dream home.
With the other portals, potential buyers have to manually request information for every listing; which can be very time-consuming. We are focused on making it seamless to find homes in the new build and luxury super-prime residential market.
What is one thing our readers might not know about but would probably find interesting about the London property market?
The best homes rarely make it to the open market. According to research by Hamptons International:
“Selling a home away from the glare of property portals is on the rise. In the first quarter of this year over 37,000 homes were sold off-market, up from almost 21,000 over the same period in 2019.”
Many sellers want to sell privately. In the age of endless information, a digital footprint is hard to remove from the internet. Unlike other countries, it’s a secret marketplace especially in London for high-value homes. HomeFinder offers access to these homes.
Could you tell us the difference between HomeFinder and Rightmove in two sentences?
Rightmove is a property portal. HomeFinder is a property portal with a dedicated HomeFinder assistant.
We’re seeing an increasing number of luxury, bespoke end-to-end property companies making headlines for using AI. Do you think that personalization in real estate will make its way out of the luxury sector and onto mainstream portals?
We are already seeing personalised recommendations with some of the American portals, using machine learning. The more you ‘like’ the more recommendations shown to a user.
From my 10 years’ experience, luxury consumers have very specific needs. The technology is not there yet, so most requests will need to be manually fulfilled. If companies have enough data then this is possible within the luxury markets. People still want that human element, which we offer.
I believe in a combination of technology and human customer service to empower people with technology, rather than replace them. HomeFinder offers a concierge service at the moment, but in time AI solutions will be built around the data.
Which are the companies in the world of portals and PropTech that you look out for in the news?
I enjoy reading about new marketplaces, especially ones that focus on a niche, rather than try and do everything. We are focusing on the new-build market and luxury market. What intrigues me is how different the portals are across the world. Different countries have very individual business models and quality standards.
How do you see the market evolving and what will you be doing to be ahead of the curve?
HomeFinder provides amazing customer service for our buyers. I previously worked as a buyer’s agent for celebrities, UHNWs including Chelsea football players and a few billionaires. I want HomeFinder to provide the same service they received – but at scale.
The data we are collecting allows us to predict what other buyers want. Most buyers end up purchasing a property that is very different to what their original requirements were. The current portals are really lead generators for estate agents and developers.
HomeFinder is building a portal for the buyers and not treating buyers as leads. Buying a home is one of the most emotional experiences. We introduce our buyers to areas that they may not have considered, ending the scrolling on portals.
We help developers and agents sell. We also understand that some sellers don’t want photos on the internet but still want to sell privately. HomeFinder provides an off-market sales service.
HomeFinder offers a premium, free service to those who are serious about finding their dream home.