Seeing an opportunity to differentiate its Internet offering, Toll Brothers Inc. bucked up for Web technology it hopes will address one of the most bothersome traits associated with real estate Web sites: the seemingly endless stream of clicks it takes to get to specific photos and floor plans of homes.
Toll recently unveiled a search engine "bot" on www.tollbrothers.com that takes plain English questions and provides quick, detailed responses. Using NewHomeBuddy is like participating in an instant messaging chat.
"Do you have homes for sale in Chicago?" netted a complete list of products with direct links to those communities. "How long does it take to build a home?" brought a nicely worded response about the home building process with the nugget "six to 18 months." But the real test was this curveball: "Philly." Instead of getting: "I did not understand your question," NewHomeBuddy came back with all of Toll's communities in the Philadelphia area.
"It's so much easier to type in 'I want a home in Phoenix' than to click, click, click," says Anna Murray, president of e*media inc., which built and deployed the system for Toll. "Instant messaging has an immediacy that nothing else has."