A radical change for real estate websites?

by Alistair Helm in ,


Last week was the bi-annual conference of Inman Connect.  Held in San Francisco in July and New York in January, the event is billed as the place where real estate meets technology. I have attended many of these conferences over the past 8 years, however this year I attended virtually by following the goings-on on Twitter and through the Inman site.

For me the most interesting component of this conference was the tech challenge undertaken by 1000Watt Consultancy to revamp a website in 24hrs! In the hands of the team at 1000Watt this was always going to be worth watching as they are the leaders in their field, always at the cutting edge of the innovation capabilities of technology as it applies to the real estate industry at franchise, broker or agent level.

The team took a San Diego real estate company website of Willis Allen and revamped it in the allotted time and created a radical change - contemporary, engaging and very different. When you examine the current site against the new design and explore the new design - you will see the difference.

The current Willis Allen website

The current Willis Allen website

The revamped site as designed by 1000Watt Consulting

The revamped site as designed by 1000Watt Consulting

The Inman News team covered the session and for me what I found most interesting and I really wish I could have been there to witness the moment when the new site was unveiled to Bud Clark the Managing Broker of Willis Allen who had at the outset said that he was looking for "a modern fresh site but wasn’t sure what direction to go". 

Apparently Clark seemed a little shocked at the extensiveness of the changes. “It’s different,” he said. Clark said "the firm will look at the design and consider what it wants to implement as it works to figure out how it wants to evolve its website".

He will "look at the design and consider" - this design was created by the smartest minds in the digital space in the real estate industry, profiled at the leading event in the industry and communicated through the media and all the manager can say - we'll consider it!

To me it says so much about the real estate industry's approach to digital marketing and this applies here in NZ as much as it does internationally. The heart of the problem as I see it is that every real estate company wants to have a website that first and foremost is about trying to be a property portal - placing searching for property front and centre. Why?

Home buyers don't use real estate company websites to search for property - that is the reason that portal aggregate the total pool of listings so one site offers the access to all the listings - or in the case of NZ, both Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property having pretty much all the listings, with private sale listings the added richness on the later's site.

Sure real estate companies want to showcase the listings they have and there is good reason to have the individual property listings on their sites - just not blasting out of the home page - see what I mean!

My advice to real estate companies would be, have current listings within the content of your real estate company website, not just current but also have old listings - all of the listings as components of the site. In that way any Google search for a property address will be more likely to bring up the real estate company site that listed the property.

But don't have a search function on your home page and clutter the home page with current listings to mimic your office window! 

The purpose of a real estate company website is as a marketing platform for the real estate company. Just as it is for any business looking to attract new customers and provide a profile platform for prospective clients to make value judgements as to the services and uniqueness of what the company offers.

For real estate that uniqueness is not to be found in the current listings. It is in the expertise, experience, knowledge, professionalism and performance of the company and its agents. It's all about local knowledge and insight. Real estate companies should look to engage visitors to their site quickly and share with them the reason why "you should choose this real estate company over all the other options when it comes to selling your home"

For Willis Allen the distilled essence of the company as exposed by the 1000Watt team was:

 

Independent, family-owned business with a leadership position earned through integrity - Willis Allen, 100 years of Real Estate

 

Too many real estate websites uses generalities "Results through Excellence", "You'll be glad you chose..", "People and Property",  "your place for everything real estate".

I have over recent years talked to many real estate companies and owners on this subject - about focussing their websites to address the needs of their future clients and prospects rather than their current clients - few, if any have taken the radical step of embracing this change. Too many seem to echo the comments of Bud Clark at Willis Allen - "we'll consider it" - but they never do!

 


How brave are real estate companies, when it comes to their website?

by Alistair Helm in


Real Estate For Sale, Land and Homes for Sale, Rentals and Commercial Leasing-1.jpg

I was recently asked by a real estate company I was advising, the question “What could we do differently in terms of our online presence?”

It was a good question. Not surprising though; as most companies in most industries are looking for a point of difference.

I think however, what they were really thinking was; how could we make a website that showcased our listings better than our competitor so as to drive more traffic to the site, to generate more enquiries; after all that is what they want – right? More enquiries, more buyers, happy sellers!?

What I told them though, was not what I think they wanted to hear. I said, to start with how about not having property listings on your website!?

Think about it for a minute. Almost every website you view from almost every real estate company has a home page focused on a search box to find their listings. This is not unique to this country; almost every country reflects this approach.

So given this universal approach why would I advocate having no property listings, unless I was just trying to be controversial or get attention?

The point I made to this client and the point that I think is worth sharing more generally is that the purpose of a website for a real estate company is to attract new business. New business for real estate companies is not comprised of buyers looking for houses. It needs to be focused towards sellers looking to choose a real estate agent. In this situation real estate is no different from any other service-based business. They want to attract customers and to do that they need to profile themselves in such a way that the prospect says – “this is the company I want to work with”.

Now property listings are the content of the real estate industry, but I would argue that real estate companies are not in the content business, they are in the service business, the satisfaction business; the satisfaction that comes from a completed sales. They are not (or at least less so these days) in the property marketing business. In this regard they should leave property marketing online to the property portals – in NZ Trade Me & Realestate.co.nz. These websites have the eyeballs and this is where the marketing more and more takes place.

Concept Oct 12.jpg

A smart real estate company should focus its website to the process of real estate transaction. Helping people understand what the process involves, providing advice and rich content and then highlighting the value they add to the process.

The site should focus heavily on the team. Real estate is about agents. The industry structure is still based on independent contractors who earn their commission-based-income by people in regular and deep contact with clients. So I would advocate deep content and profiling of all agents. Take the opportunity o really reveal the personality of the agent. Too many profile just republish the same tired clichés “Jane / John has a passion for real estate, they love working with people through the life changing process of moving house. Jane / John have lived in the area for years and love the community and the relationships they build with their clients over the years that have become friends”!

This is an example of a real estate portal website - Zillow in the US, not a real estate company website, but the section "What I love about my house" is great

This is an example of a real estate portal website - Zillow in the US, not a real estate company website, but the section "What I love about my house" is great

How about a bit more about the unique characteristics of the agent – what about what they love in a house, what style they love, what is their passion outside of real estate. After all it is more likely that a person that loves dogs is going to be keen to chat to an agent that equally loves dogs!

The site should also be clear about how much it should cost to sell your house. It is amazing how hard it is to find this out in most websites. I seem to recall a quote that if there was no price on an item in a catalogue then if you had to ask – you could not afford it. Is this the approach real estate takes? If they want your business then they should be up-front and tell you what it costs. If they are flexible to negotiate, let them say that. But give a guide as to the expected cost.

They should also outline what types and scale of marketing that should be recommended dependent upon circumstances.

A real benefit would be some great case studies that demonstrate the process of listing, marketing and selling some homes, within this, demonstrating the areas where the agent helps the process through to satisfactory conclusion – this would be far more valuable than endless bland testimonials that most sites seem to have that just keep reiterating how marvelous the agent was. Let’s be clear; these days consumers only trust reviews when they are open and balanced, a curated list that is not allowed to be commented on, is generally discredited as biased.

Another key service that real estate companies can offer that is complementary to their market knowledge of property is their community knowledge, so how about making the website more about the living experience and community feel for the areas served by the real estate company. This perfectly complements the agent profile section so each agent can share open and insightful local community profiles.

Now a point I should make is that by real estate website what I mean is the business website for the local real estate company as opposed to the corporate website for the brand or franchise. In the case of NZ read Harcourts, Ray White, LJ Hooker, Professionals, Barfoot & Thompson and Bayleys. These corporate sites are likely to continue to focus on property search and listings. This is mainly because these corporates are more interested in challenging the power of the portals of Trade Me & Realestate.co.nz and supporting their franchise offices for whom they want to drive brand exposure and traffic. What they should be doing though is focusing more on profiling their core brand values, the investment in training they provide as well as the professional standards they uphold and the company network of local offices they have as well as socially minded initiatives.

Having made all of these comments of criticism and advice for real estate companies, I should add that recently I was forwarded a link from a colleague in the USA who has shared my views on the changing face of real estate – he had come across a brave real estate company who had taken the leap of faith and re-developed their website to not show properties – congratulations to Real Living at Home – a radically different real estate company of Washington DC.