Anatomy of a real estate website revamp

1000watt revamps Willis Allen Real Estate's site in 24 hours

SAN FRANCISCO — How do you make a good real estate website great?

Real estate design and marketing consulting firm 1000watt took that challenge on for San Diego-based brokerage Willis Allen Real Estate during a 24-hour revamp at Real Estate Connect.

Screen shot of the 24-hour 1000watt revamp of Willis Allen Real Estate's website.
Screen shot of the 24-hour 1000watt revamp of Willis Allen Real Estate's website.

The result, unveiled on the Connect stage today, is a sleek, fully redesigned site featuring responsive design, full-bleed photography and a streamlined presentation of the firm’s 100-year-old story.

Some of the highlights of the redesign include a simplified home page featuring just a photo and a home search bar, a design that will adapt to fit a screen of any size, and a new tagline and clear brand identity.

Bud Clark, Willis Allen’s managing broker, wanted a modern fresh site but wasn’t sure what direction to go.

What goes into a refresh like this? Real estate marketing vets and 1000watt partners Brian Boero, Marc Davison and Joel Burslem huddle together in their Connect meeting room to redesign the brand, craft copy and envision a look that captures the firm’s key value proposition.

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After creating a rough outline of their idea, aka a “wireframe,” the partners hand it off to their Web designer Eddie Lobanovskiy and coder Anton Krozhuk, who tweaked and amplified the design and turned it into a semifunctional prototype by working into the wee hours of Thursday morning.

1000watt partners Brian Boero, Marc Davison and Joel Burslem at work on the redesign.

1000watt partners (from left) Brian Boero, Marc Davison and Joel Burslem at work on the redesign.

One of the standout features of the redesign is the bold tagline front and center on the Willis Allen home page, “This Never Gets Old.”

The tagline is perfect for the firm, said 1000watt partner Brian Boero in the consulting firm’s revamp war room on Wednesday afternoon. It puts a fresh angle on the firm’s 100-year age and ties in the idea of living in San Diego — you’ll never get tired of barbequing in 75-degree weather on a January evening, he said.

The screen-maxed image of a backyard is another standout feature of the redesign.

Boero was set on a backyard image as the dominate photo as he, Davison and Burslem huddled together in their meeting room on Wednesday.

The original site features a carousel of images of San Diego scenes. Burslem pointed out how they’re unconnected to each other and it’s not clear what story they’re telling about the brokerage.

The revamped site does that, Boero said. “It evokes a feeling of place,” he said. “Consumers feel something when they hit the site.”

The new site also lost the “Las Vegas strip” of social media buttons at the top of the page and adapted the search bar from something that looked like work into a simple and easy-looking-to-use tool.

“Real estate websites need to have a carefully calibrated balance between utility and expression of the brand,” Boero said. That means that consumers must be able to complete tasks but also meet and get to know the brand, both visually and with words.

Many real estate websites throw the kitchen sink at a consumer when they first visit, by presenting search, advertising their ancillary services, telling their story, Boero said.

Screen shot of Willis Allen Real Estate's current website.

Screen shot of Willis Allen Real Estate’s current website.

It’s important to give a Web user the opportunity to direct engagement on a site, Boero said. “A site shouldn’t speak unless spoken to,” he said.

The redesigned site exemplifies this by giving the consumer just one item to focus on on each part of the page. Home search, the photo, and broker brand and contact info is front and center. To access the firm’s history and marketing style, the user scrolls down.

Consumers access a menu bar to see other services the firm provides on the redesigned site.

Willis Allen’s current site throws a lot at the user at once: history, search, relocation services, market videos and more.

This can confuse a consumer’s experience, Boero said.

Presenting mortgage services to a consumer when they’re interested in searching for a home is like a waiter bringing a dessert menu to a couple who has just sat down in a restaurant, Boero said. The website experience has got to flow.

The redesigned site also features a seller-focused portion on the home page where all of the properties currently listed with Willis Allen are highlighted, showing potential sellers just what kind of digital marketing treatment their homes will receive.

In what Boero called a kind of “lead-gen jiujitsu,” the revamped site also features a tool that helps consumers find a Willis Allen agent by entering a home’s URL that caught their eye on Zillow.

When he saw the revamped site for the first time on the Connect stage on Thursday, 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.


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