Real estate Web sites come in all shapes and sizes, but while some engage people’s interest well enough to keep their attention for hours, others manage to log only 30-second visits. The Web sites home buyers and sellers find most valuable share such common characteristics as for-sale homes listings data, school reports and multiple-language capabilities, vendors say.

Current home listings are essential for realty Web sites to attract consumers, and a Web site that doesn’t have homes for people to browse has little value, according to seven developers who participated in an Inman News audio conference about what’s hot in real estate Web sites.

Take an Inman News survey on Web site features.

Web sites are a crucial business asset for real estate companies and agents since the majority of home buyers now start their search for a home online and use the Web to research agents before they enter a real estate office. Web sites can be used to attract leads, and manage transactions and customer relationships.

“The goal is not to sell a house over the Web, but to sell your services,” Birdview Technologies EVP Mike Kehoe said.

A successful real estate Web site also needs a registration or signup form or another method to capture visitor information. Otherwise, agents may never hear back from people who visited their Web site or be able to gauge the site’s effectiveness.

School information is valuable because the quality of schools in a community affects a home’s value and can be a deciding factor in whether a particular buyer makes an offer to purchase the home. School reports can generate leads for realty agents because most consumers are willing to register at a Web site to obtain such information, according to Lawrence Schoeffler, COO of Best Image Marketing.

Vendors disagreed over whether realty Web sites should to provide a link to the school data or include it directly on the Web site.

Schoeffler said a Web site rich with valuable links could create a positive impression with people who are looking for all types of real estate information. Site visitors who find the links useful might bookmark the site and become frequent visitors.

Kehoe disagreed.

“I always recommend against a link out. It doesn’t cost anything, but you risk losing the consumer,” he said.

Web sites with multilingual features can capture foreign language-speaking home buyers and sellers, according to Rusty Lindquist, product manager for a la mode’s Agent Xsites. Displaying information in someone’s native language goes a long way towards winning a listing, he said.

As more agents focus on niche markets, it’s becoming more common to find agents who have two or three Web sites, according to Jane Ellsworth-Purcell, SVP of Advanced Access, an Anaheim, Calif.-based Web developer.

“We see (agents) pick up a Web site specializing in a particular community. They may focus on a specific new development or street of homes as opposed to an entire region,” she said.

Like agents who specialize in niche markets, Web site vendors also offer products that specialize in different aspects of real estate marketing efforts.

Some vendors focus on generating traffic to a Web site to return good-quality sales leads to the agent. Others concentrate on building the Web site into a business tool that will enable an agent to track transactions and communicate with clients. Some vendors target brokerage offices as clients, while others focus on individual agents.

Web site vendors who participated in the audio conference were Advanced Access, a la mode, Z57 Internet Solutions, Best Image Marketing, VREO Software, Birdview Technologies and Point2Realty Solutions.

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