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What to drive and where to live. Two important decisions for consumers. And two decisions generally enabled by phone and online leads from vertical search engines. How about chat?

Since 2005 Contact At Once has provided online chat software to vertical sites. Its first customer, AutoTrader, immediately saw a 20 percent increase in conversions. But that was just the tipping point.

President and CEO John Hanger tells us the company now plans to expand its “presence-enabled advertising” into real estate verticals. Presence-enabled ads allow consumers to see and interact with personnel at the merchant site via computer or mobile chat. Using a computer, a conversation window appears with a photo of the responding agent.

Contact At Once initially focused on local products that consumers research online, like apartments and cars, but purchase offline. “In a Facebook world, you want to see someone’s face that is at the site. It increases the likelihood of contact,” Hanger says. That’s the idea behind using presence-enabled ads to increase online conversion in property management. Last week, Contact At Once partnered with Fetch Plus, provider of Fan Pages on Facebook. FetchPlus licensed apartment chat from Contact At Once to enable prospective renters and current tenants to browse Facebook Fan pages and connect instantly with property representatives to ask questions.

A key benefit of presence-enabled ads for consumers is discretion. “If you look at weblogs for search sites, the vast majority of traffic occurs during the workday,” Hanger says. They don’t have to call a rental property from their cube, when they should be working, to get pricing and availability. Hanger says within the coming months, most if not all, vertical search sites will add chat and presence awareness to improve lead tracking and maximize ROI.

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