There is an expression I always find amusing - "you wait for what seems like an eternity for a bus and guess what two turn up together"!
Well it seems for no particular reason we are experiencing this with real estate websites. For years it was just Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property. Not since AllRealestate exited the market in 2008 have we seen a credible competitor to the two incumbents of this digital marketing space.
Not one but two new residential property websites and one specialist commercial property websites have appeared in the past month and I thought it would be of value to examine these new entrants and evaluate the likelihood of any of them toppling the incumbents.
In my mind there are a few critical components required for a property website to be a viable competitor to challenge the incumbents. These are (1) Content (2) User Experience and (3) Brand presence, so let’s see how these 3 sites stack up.
This website seems to be dominated by listings from LJ Hooker and First National - collectively it hosts just under 5,000 listings of property for sale and 270 listings of rental property. This is a very small component of the 38,000 properties for sale and 10,000 for rent across the country. Without comprehensive content then there is little to recommend the site.
The site offers nothing in the way of functionally save for what might be thought of as the very basic search. The site looks like a vanilla “out of the box” website that displays listing and nothing more. Clean it may be, but functionality wise it is a pale imitation of the leading sites.
In terms of brand presence, certainly the domain name is impressive - this would have to be one of the first and most sought-after real estate domain names. It was originally registered in 1997. However domain names and websites that are generic to the category I think are a double-edged sword as I can attest to with Realestate.co.nz - you are instantly relevant in the context of the domain name but when marketing the brand is a mouthful as you have to add the ‘dot co dot nz’ to explain what it its - compare that with Trade Me!
Overall I would judge this site to have done a good job of selling the idea to LJ Hooker and First National to get their listings, but a poor job in executing a website. I would also have to question seriously what they claim to be significant engagement through social media. Their site states that they have over 7,000 Likes on Facebook, over 400 on Google+ and over 800 shares on Twitter! The facts are that their Facebook page has 20 Likes!
This website has a long way to go in regard to the content, as of today they have 10 listings of which 1 is rental. Now to be fair they only launched today so maybe we should hold off to see how they go in the coming weeks.
When it comes to user experience I have to commend this team which is based in Queenstown. They have built a very appealing site in terms of design, very clean, focused on images and with clear details about properties. The image sizes are huge and allow full-screen presentation which can make a very basic house look great. Not only is the design to be applauded they have implemented unique functionality in their compare feature which allows for the side-by-side comparison of your saved properties.
When it comes to brand name I have to hold my head in my hands! - Rent or Sell. It has to be the most unmemorable name - it is devoid of personality and whilst it is contextual I can see why it was easy to acquire - the domain name was only registered in July this year. It would have been better to call it zwango.co.nz at least that is memorable (and you can buy it for $20 today!).
Overall I think they have the right approach to design but their future relies on hard work to get content. My advice would be go and see LJ Hooker and First National as they seem keen to support new sites with content. I would also caution them to be honest when it comes to content. On their home page they have what they title "Client Testimonials" I think these may have been ideas that they threw on a test site - they have nothing to do with their business and I would have to suggest are works of fiction.
I am grateful to an eagle-eyed reader who spotted this website from the US (WPResidence) which is identical to RentorSell - clearly showing that this is a templated 'out of the box' website designed for property. I must say that in my view it is a good design and when stacked up against the leading incumbents in the NZ market clearly shows how far this category has developed and how little we have seen in innovation and user design in the NZ market - it is long overdue!
This new site is very different from the other two in that it is not an entrepreneurial start-up built with investor money and life savings. This is a site built with the muscle of APN (soon to be renamed NZME) - publisher of The New Zealand Herald. In terms of content the site is well developed having close to half the full complement of listings on the market. This is not surprising for the Weekend Herald print supplement has for years been the primary marketing medium for commercial real estate and thereby provided the necessary existing relationship with the real estate companies.
As for brand awareness, well here we have the compete antithesis to the aspiring residential sites because APN has leveraged their print and digital muscle to promote this site. They have renamed their weekly property supplement and advertise the site extensively on the NZ Herald website - that is a lot of advertising impact. As for brand name - a good domain name combining contextual relevance and a memorable name.
Overall I am disappointed in this site. The Herald should have been developing this solution in 2005 when the digital market place really took off. They might have possibly waited for the collapse of Sella in 2012 to make way for a dedicated site. All of which demonstrates a missed opportunity of massive proportion not just because the industry has been spending millions to support Trade Me Property and Realestate.co.nz over the years but in having a leading site they could have managed the natural migration of print to digital and in bundling a package of print and online advertising solutions they could have achieved leadership. I just don’t see this site being a real challenger or real threat to the incumbents despite the muscle APN could leverage and the pot of gold they could secure. They would really need to better understand their customers and the unique needs of the market to deliver this result and build a compelling site.
So in summary all of these 3 new sites are in my view doomed. Good intentions, good ambition and some small pieces of innovation. However the real reason why none of these will ever succeed is not for what I have written so far in this article, but from the single fact that none of them have a mobile app.
If I was to start a new digital property platform today in NZ I might well forego the web and launch purely as a mobile app! Real estate is a mobile experience and to not have an app is to miss the point and to show a complete lack of appreciation of the needs of the market.