The Best (and Worse) Real Estate Portal Features

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In an effort to outdo their competitors real estate portals are continually upgrading their technology. Companies (like the big two) spend millions each year on R&D while others may have a 1 developer team. Does the best innovation come from those with large R&D budgets or have we witnessed impressive features released on smaller portals (or even agent websites)?

We’ve had a few requests from B2 readers asking whether we can perform a mini poll in relation to the best and worse (most useful/useless) features, readers have experienced on real estate portals. Web development is all about the experience, if a browser has not had a “unique and enjoyable experience” then the web development team has failed.

So which features have been a success and which have not been so good?

I’ll get the ball rolling and say for me the number one feature/enhancement has been the integration of Google Maps with the property details page. Although highlighting the location of a property may not always be advantageous for a vendor, it is an absolute necessity for a pleasurable experience for a property seeker.

I believe one of the worst features is when you search via suburb and the portal automatically checks “include surrounding suburbs”. This usually includes suburbs in a 20km radius and when you’re searching an Inner City suburb the results end up being hundreds of properties that are not really that relevant to the search.

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  • David Crombie
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 9:39 am 0Likes

    I think you to also keep in mind that Agents and Consumers sometimes have different ideas on what is a good feature and how a portal should function.

    Portals need to represent the Agents property in the best possible manner but should be designed from a consumer perspective.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 11:38 am 0Likes

    Fascinating topic in that the portals greatest fear is losing popularity and relevance. For mine email alerts are the number one feature as that is what many consider the real estate equivalent to “Breaking News”.

    The elephant in the room for the property portals is Google given it focuses on assisting people to find their online solution as quickly as possible. Property portal models are quite the opposite as they focus more on emarketing marinated with third party advertising banners and flash.Over time what remains to be seen is whether or not this will increase their brand performance.

    I seriously doubt that emarketing is as relevant today as it was previously given all we read about these days is not about market engagement rather Unique Visitors – which is much like David Jones or Myers telling us ow many pedestrians walked into their respective stores last month.

    We all know that consumers change and I am not that sure that the centralised property portals remain as relevant as they were previously where I see that they are losing control not gaining it as was the case ten years ago.

    It reminds me of remote access although I see strong emerging markets where agents and agencies want greater influence. Hence the emergence of mobile websites and the like where today it is more about using that online experience to leverage consumer sentiment to their own brand by value adding.

    If an agent has a fantastic database he actually will hit the right eyeballs much faster than a property portal which takes me back to what Google currently offers which is more direct target marketing.

    I love this quote which to me really sums it up.

    You need to have a mentality that sees failure as a stepping stone for moving forward rather than as proof of the need to turn back

  • Jeroen
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm 0Likes

    Great topic Ryan, well done.

    I would like to put on my Domain hat for a moment and respond to your suggestion that including surrounding suburbs is one of the worst features. This is arguably true when using a standard search, however I believe that when combined with the Domain Radar functionality it is actually becomes a fantastic feature. Consider the following:

    A property buyer wants to buy in Rockingham (WA). A standard search will return properties only in that suburb. Now when this property buyer performs a Radar search on Domain, their lifestyle choices are brought into the equation and a property in a surrounding suburb like Cooloongup could tick all the boxes. The buyer may never have performed a search for Cooloongup because they were not aware that that suburb actually existed.

    What do you think?

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm 0Likes

    Jeroen, I can see it

  • Jeroen
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm 0Likes

    I hear you Ryan, It will be interesting to view different opinions from agents and buyers who both look at this feature from a different perspective.

  • PaulD
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm 0Likes

    Ryan, Agreed. I am so used to unchecking the surrounding suburbs, that I had not even noticed that I do it. Some of the adjoining suburbs, you need a guide dog and a cut lunch to get to, and yes 200+ listings come up instead of a manageable number. Really a time waster. I guess however, that from a buyers perspective, they may see properties that they would not otherwise be aware of, and it ads to the viewing numbers, no matter how unlikely someone is to want to actually enquire about the property. How else can you explain properties that get thousands of “lookers” and absolutely no enquiry ?

  • Vic
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 11:16 am 0Likes

    Great subject Ryan,

    Having recently been an active searcher for a new home these were the steps that my wife and I took.

    – googled for a “waterfront home in Launceston”
    – searched portals or agent sites that came up on the first page
    – found that portals were the more comprehensive
    – found that Domain had the most agent listings (in Launceston anyway)
    – found that Domain image visuals were the easiest and fastest to search through
    – looked at google maps and street view – used this to dicern distances to facilities, look of the locality, position of home on block
    – phoned agents for further discussion on a property
    – bookmarked to develop a short list.

    The bells and whistles of the portal sites did not interest me as I knew where and what we were looking for.

    Looking beyond page 2 of google did not interest me.

    Getting quickly and easily to an agent interested me and this I found to be hardest to do.

    So in summary, we used the Portals, because they were easiest to find and had the most properties and we used them like we previously used the written Look for a property within our price range and locality and size then look for some agent to talk to about it.

  • Charlie Gunningham
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm 0Likes

    You’re right Ryan -there are property portals out there of all shapes and sizes, all round the world doing interesting things.

    While most (yes, including the one I now run) has the usual suburb/postcode/ID search, how about a real Google-type keyword search so you can enter anything (“sea views ” etc)? I’ve seen some do this – surely this is the way to go.

    How about plotting your homeopens on a map, showing you the best route according to where the properties are, and when they are open? and best yet – on an app?

    Some portals are doing funky things with heat maps (different coloured icons or shaded suburbs according to price).

    How about an intelligent alert system that brought us properties it knew we needed (cos it knows what we want, even before we do, based on prior searching, again almost Google-like) … is this not what the Web 3.0 or semantic web is all about?

  • Vic
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am 0Likes

    Good comments Charlie, especially about a google search type system.

    We have tried something different by having a “quick Search” by State/Region and an “Advanced Search” by State/Region and by property type ie Beach/Ocean front, Waterviews/coastal and by homes, vacant land or projects.

    Suburbs are in a drop down box and only display suburbs in which properties have been listed. We do not use the postcode system (excepting backend) as chances are nobody searches this way.

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm 0Likes

    Charlie, that home opens is a good idea you could take it a step forward and sync it with your gps. REA have taken their time with an iPhone app so perhaps the’re planning to do something like this.

  • Jeroen
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 2:02 pm 0Likes

    Charlie, I agree with “Search for anything” feature. Especially now that Google Instant is being released accross the globe, visitors want more freedom in how they search.

    Domain has “Inspection Planner” Registered users can add listings they want to view on the weekend then, when they are finished browsing they can print out an inspection plan which has plotted the properties on a map, lists the properties in order of inspection times and also includes driving instructions from property A to B to C etc. The inspection plan also includes a notes field and branding for the selling agent.

    This feature is also available on the latest version of our Domain iPhone App.

  • Steve Basin
    Posted October 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm 0Likes

    Good topic Ryan, it got me thinking…
    Yes, it’s great to see property portals, in particular the larger ones around the world, trying to embrace all the latest fads and gadgets to make their site more appealing to their users.
    But, I always came from the thought of “keeping it simple”, to achieve the ultimate purpose for the buyers and renters and that is to give as much information as possible on a property listing, whether by description, photos and/or video.
    No bells and whistles can do that except “hard work” to compose a listing by the agent and/or owner.
    The better question to probably ask is what do buyers and renters really want? This will then help you build the features, which probably in hindsight isn’t that much….

  • Brendan Paine
    Posted January 16, 2011 at 6:53 am 0Likes

    As a property investor, I think a radius search would be a brilliant idea. Choose a suburb and then select a distance (ie 2km) and all the suburbs within that area are liste

    Current map based searching, which is the closest alternative I’ve found, is simply unpractical and time consuming.

    Surely this would be faily simple to implement?

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted January 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm 0Likes

    Steve, I remember when Twitter was first launched the design and layout of their site blew me away. I loved fact that it was so simple and easy to navigate.

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