New iPad app from Barfoot & Thompson

by Alistair Helm in ,

Auckland's largest real estate group Barfoot & Thompson this week launched an iPad app that I think is a great piece of work.

It works on the principle of keep-it-simple and let the technology work for the user instead of getting in the way. I would judge that it is the best property iPad app developed in NZ and an equal of some of the best I have seen worldwide.

However having lauded it with such praise, I don't want to go much further before stating a major problem with it.

It is a property search tool that only shows listing from Barfoot & Thompson agents. Now that may well be 40% of the listings in Auckland, but for any property hunter, what value is there in only seeing a fraction of what is on offer to buy. Just as in the early days of the web, buyers had to trawl through each website of each agency to see what was on the market and boy did they get frustrated. Trade Me Property & came along and provided the solution, all properties on one site.

So aside from this issue lets look at the beauty of this app built by Jandal software (who by the way also built the ASB Property app).

1. The focus is on location as the priority – very smart focusing on the inherent GPS capability of mobile devices (Trade Me Property iPad app does not prioritise this). You can easily zoom in and out and the speed of response is Ok, not lightening fast but Ok. There is a small issue that when you zoom out you get no clustering of listings and clicking on a pin at a resolution of the whole of Auckland shows individual properties. The app does a much better job of clustering. Also I wonder why the blue location finder icon that tells you where you are disappears when you first move the map – may be a bug that needs fixing.

2. Open homes are great – find the ‘layer’ icon and you choose to show open homes within the next hour / day / all time – simple and beautiful with open homes shown with a great corporate B&T logo.

Barfoot for iPad on the iTunes App Store.png

3. School zones are one of the highlighted features of the app and the execution is great. On the ‘layer’ icon choose to show schools, choose a school and tap the ‘zone’ and you get a clear boundary demarcation of the zone for that school. This is one of those ‘must haves’ of an Auckland property search tool and congrats to Barfoot’s for delivering this.

4. The individual property listings are prioritised to show off full screen images which look great. Swiping through photos is entirely intuitive and a joy to do! Extra tabs deliver property info, videos and floor plans. Here is a question though, why do Barfoot not mandate the provision of floor plans? Floor plans are a real benefit to buyers and providing them would really deliver a point-of-difference for the company.

5. There is though a glaring hole with the app in regards to functionality, and it is the same functional shortfall that befalls the app – you cannot save properties as favourites and sync those listings between the web and the app. There is also another very useful but missing toolset that I thought would have been included and that was social sharing – you can email a listing to a friend, but no such luck sharing it to Twitter of Facebook.

So overall a great piece of work from a user experience point of view – but I come back to my earlier question, will it be popular given you only ever see a portion of what’s for sale?

Now Barfoot & Thompson could fix this. They could access the Trade Me API and deliver all listings in an area straight into the app. The API is open access, equally Barfoot’s are a big customer of Trade Me which would easily garner support from Trade Me for such an initiative. In the US many branded real estate company apps do exactly this – show all listings.

I suspect many of the competing companies might not like this, but to be honest what’s the problem? – if their listings are seen then that is good for their vendors.

Maybe Barfoot’s would judge that sharing the app with competing listings is not in their best interest, but then again who is the client? I am sure vendors would be happier to have a smart app being used by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders rather than an app being used only by Barfoot agents and a few people who don’t know the app doesn’t show all the listings.

So there is the challenge to Barfoot’s – be bold, be a leader and make your app the definitive app for Auckland property finding and build your brand, your respect and your business.