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I was having a tough time finding boots that fit me, so I checked out Zappos. We in the real estate industry could learn a lot from their approach to customer service. Here are three Zappos practices I’d like to see adopted in the Boston real estate market.

1. Personalize my search. Zappos makes it easy to shop for exactly the kind of boots I want. Instead of just allowing me to search for boots using basic categories like shoe type, color, and size, I could narrow down my search based on all kinds of criteria, including styles, materials, heel height, etc. I could even search for vegan shoes! It should be just as easy for people who are house hunting to have this level of personalization when they begin looking for homes online.

The MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in Boston does give realtors and brokers some pretty nifty home search features. For example, in addition to searching by the number of bedrooms/baths, square footage, number of garage spaces, lot size, home style, towns/neighborhoods, and price range, we can further customize a home search with all sorts of criteria, even getting down to details such as:

Distance to the beach
Level of master bedroom (helpful if you want to avoid stairs)
Green certified homes

We can also exclude homes with certain attributes such as:

Shared driveway
Steep lot
In a flood plain location

It’s easy for your realtor to set up a search like this for you, which is great, but it would also be nice if the Boston area MLS allowed everyone access to these personalized search capabilities.

2. Focus on my needs, not the product. When I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, I was able to reach a Zappos salesperson instantly. She didn’t ask me about products though. She asked me what I was looking for the product to accomplish (i.e., boots that would stand up during lots of dog walking).

These types of conversations are even more important for helping people who are buying a new home, particularly if they’re new to the area. If you’re moving to the Boston area, for example, hopefully your realtor will help you to find a community that best fits your family’s needs, as well as helping you find the right home. They might ask questions like:

What drew you to the Boston area?
Tell me about the ideal community living in?
What did you like best and least about the town you’re moving from?
What are you looking for in your children’s school system?
What are your commuting needs?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Do you have any concerns about moving to the area?

3. Look beyond the current inventory. During my online chat with Zappos customer service, I mentioned that I liked a particular boot but it wasn’t available in my size. A day later, I was pleased to get an email from them, letting me know that the boots I wanted were back in stock.

Looking beyond current inventory is particularly important in the Boston real estate market, where we’ve been seeing an eight-year low in the number of homes for sale.

Although we’re hoping this trend will change in the spring, it’s still very important for realtors to be proactive in helping their clients find just the right home. Several of the homes we sold last year never made it into the Boston MLS. They were properties we found by doing some extra legwork. Happily, this gave our clients an opportunity to tour properties and come to an agreement with the home sellers without the pressure of being in multiple bid situations.

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