Launched in April last year, Next Place has 260,000 real estate listings and traffic increasing at 20 to 30 percent every week. Unlike other real estate sites, Next Place uses advanced technology – similar to Adioso – that allows users to search for property like never before.
Founded by Australian entrepreneur Dan Tarasenko, Next Place allows for free-form searches – meaning that users can take advantage of the site through simple and natural language queries.
Whereas on other real estate search sites, users have to fill out or tick boxes in a very restricted way, on Next Place the user can type in ‘3 bedroom house Sydney’ into the search box and be returned with relevant results. They can also take advantage of the negative keyword feature by typing in ‘3 bedroom house Sydney –pool’. This will exclude 3 bedroom houses in Sydney with swimming pools.
“This allows the visitor to remove from their search results things they specifically don’t want, which in many instances is more powerful than searching for what they do want. Other useful examples could be the term “cash-flow positive” for that ideal investment or “-renovated” if a newly renovated home is not what you’re after,” says Tarasenko.
Next Place also offers geospatial ‘Draw My Search’ capabilities that allow users to plot a search area on a map that is relevant to their interests. This feature is wide reaching, so users can select areas that are only within walking distance from a train station, or search for a holiday house along the coast, or even just select the part of a suburb they want to live in excluding areas they don’t want.
With a background in eCommerce and site search, Tarasenko knew that usability matters more than anything else in the online industry. He says, “If users can’t find what they’re looking for, they can’t buy it.”
“With the two dominant real estate portals [Domain.com.au and RealEstate.com.au] there are extremely limited usability options. On neither of those websites can you perform a truly unique search as an individual user. I knew there was a better way of doing things, so I built it.”
It was not long after he came up with the idea for Next Place that he realised how important listing numbers are. He says no matter how many cool features you have, if you don’t provide the consumer with a sufficient number of listings, they simply won’t use the site.
As such, the Next Place team developed their own crawling technology similar to Google Bot, allowing them to crawl Real Estate websites directly and index their listings.
So, for real estate agents, the search engine offers a new, cost-free way of listing their properties and bypassing the need for subscription fees and featured listing costs.
“The benefit to real estate agents and their vendors is immense. We not only help consumers find their property via our unique tools, we can do it for the agent and their vendor for free. And all they need is their own functional website,” says Tarasenko.
The startup has been entirely bootstrapped to date. Tarasenko admits that they did approach incubators and investors who expressed interest in the business in 2012, but were unable to find a suitable fit.
“It started to become a distraction and was delaying our launch. Bootstrapping allows one to become very resourceful and in hindsight has allowed us to develop a better solution than if we were fully subscribed, as counter-intuitive as that sounds,” says Tarasenko.
When asked how big the online real estate market is, Tarasenko confirmed there was approximately $200 million being spent on real estate online – generally via portal fees and advertising.
“I agree with some of the commentators I have spoken to, who believe this figure includes a lot of waste, as it’s comprised almost entirely of one website charging unbelievable amounts for simply listing property. Nowhere in the world does such a status quo exist,” says Tarasenko.
“My aim is for NextPlace.com.au to become the property website consumers really want, and drive some real innovation into this space.”
Next Place has a few different monetisation opportunities, Tarasenko says, which are mostly around advertising and mortgage referrals.
“We are currently working with our Chief Economist on a range of data and reporting products in order to deliver insights to property consumers and agents to help them with their business,” he adds.
Interestingly, until now, marketing hasn’t been a priority for the Next Place team, as well as their biggest challenge.
“Our main competitors are owned by Australia’s two largest media companies, which presents some other unique marketing challenges,” says Tarasenko.
Not having expendable funds, they chose to spend it on crawling websites and adding more features to their technology.
“Our number of listings has almost doubled since our soft launch in February 2013, to approximately 260,000; and the number of websites crawled since launch has increased 400 percent. Our marketing plan is now simply about increasing awareness … Once people see that there is an easier way to search for property than what they are accustomed to, I am confident they will tell their friends,” says Tarasenko.
Next Place’s biggest achievement happened during Christmas. They surpassed one million properties indexed in their search engine. Tarasenko says, “This was a real milestone in terms of testing our technology, and confirming that it’s both reliable and scalable.”
They were also able to capture the attention of a leading US webhost, Liquid Web, who accepted Next Place into their Incubator programme. The programme provides hosting support and mentorship for innovative online businesses, and Next Place is the first non-US company Liquid Web have accepted.
“We are fortunate to not only have up to $25,000 financial assistance with our web hosting but also access to the Liquid Web Enterprise support team. The same engineers that work on some of the world’s largest websites and biggest brands now also work on mine which is a huge advantage for us,” says Tarasenko.
He says he will also be launching Nextagent.com.au next month, which will help property owners find a real estate agent to sell or rent their property. Property owners will need to simply list their property on the site, and interested agents will pitch to those owners to gain business.
Next Place is once again in talks with potential investment partners. But their focus will remain on indexing more agents to build their listings and developing tools to deliver valuable insights to all property consumers, agents and vendors in Australia and New Zealand.