A radical change for real estate websites?

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!