When Julius Dickens noticed a limitation in the search capability on the web page he was using to promote his business, he didn’t complain to his brokerage. He built a solution himself.
Like most agents, Dickens made use of the microsite provided by his brokerage, which features an IDX feed of current listings. It’s not that it wasn’t functioning properly, but just that he wanted something more robust. “It works. Nothing’s really wrong with it, but I wanted to provide more options,” he said.
So the Dream Town agent rolled up his sleeves and got to work employing his limited programming skills to create a site for his business, Oasis Chicago, that uses a custom-built search function as part of a virtual office website, or VOW.
Dickens broke down what it allows prospective clients to do. “Say you’re a family with two young kids. Obviously you want three bedrooms. But what if one of them is in the basement or upstairs? What I’ve built out allows me the flexibility to set up more refined search criteria so that you can limit your search to three-bedroom homes with the bedrooms on the same level,” he said. “It will save clients a lot of time they might otherwise waste poring through searches that may not meet their needs.”
The site, OasisChicago.com, is transitioning out of a beta testing phase and is now live. It features a ticker that crawls from right to left above the top navigation bar, showing recent changes in median home prices in neighborhoods throughout the city, offering a look similar to a financial site showing rising or falling stock prices.
Building out the site fits into a larger strategy, he explained. A graduate of West Point, Dickens was a lieutenant in the Army before being discharged for medical reasons in his early 20s. A stint in pharmaceutical sales helped him understand the need for a customer relationship management tool to keep in touch with prospective homebuyers early in their search.
“What I’d like to eventually do is plug in a CRM like Infusionsoft, which will separate the users who come to the site into ‘buckets’ based on the referring site, like through Facebook or Google or some other means,” Dickens said.
The goal, Dickens explained, is to provide those looking to buy or sell a home with a resource unlike what they’ll find elsewhere, and eventually have a way to keep in touch with those visitors, starting even before they’re ready to actively make a move to buy or sell.
“In a time when people can easily just use Zillow and Trulia and Redfin to find the home they want, I think it’s going to be more important than ever to get really good at this kind of thing,” Dickens said. “I want to give prospective clients a reason to come to me instead of trying to chase them.”