Century 21 Real Estate, a franchise brand of Realogy Corp., has modernized its corporate Web site to incorporate Web 2.0 property search tools such as interactive mapping with drawing tools to select search areas, slide shows and online video, and sliders that users can click and drag to set search parameters.

The first major facelift for the site began last year, said Kevin Pollack, director of e-Commerce marketing for Century 21.

At that time, the site "was in really bad shape," he said. "The code was beat up, the content was old and stale, usability was questionable. We quickly redesigned the existing content and code. That was a drastic improvement."

Designers worked on a complete redesign in the months following, and the revamped site made its debut at the end of May, Pollack said.

"We wanted to make the brand feel younger, a little more tech-savvy, a little more upscale … compared to the old site," he said. "Everything is new," he said, from the look and feel to the functionality.

The intent is to make the site "more modern and more hip. We wanted to make the brand feel a little younger. We wanted everything to be fluid."

New search tools are a major focus at the site’s home page.

Visitors can choose up to four locations — including cities, states and ZIP code areas — to search in simultaneously, and they have the option to select open houses only.

A sliding "proximity" bar allows users to choose how far out to extend their search from the selected location or locations, with a maximum range of 50 miles.

Sliders also can be used to set a property price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and square footage.

Users can also choose to click a range of home types and styles — everything from condos to colonials and vacant lots to log homes. There is also a list of desired amenities that users can search for, such as fenced yards, patios, decks, pools and scenic views.

The site’s mapping engine allows users to define a search area for properties by clicking to connect a set of points on the screen to form a polygon, and a separate tool allows users to specify a circular area in which to search. Both tools can be used in unison to define separate search areas for a single map-based search query.

In its standard list-based search of properties, the site allows users to click on a "listing preview" button for a given property that displays a miniature slide show of that property. Users can click on left and right arrows to display additional photos.

Property listings data at the site is supplied by Century 21 parent company Realogy, which also operates the Coldwell Banker, ERA and Sotheby’s International Realty franchise brands and will soon launch a Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate franchise brand.

Another search option, the "photo flow," allows users to navigate through a horizontal sequence of property photos by using a sliding bar.

The new tools are powerful but do add some complexity to the search process, and Pollack noted that there are a series of quick video tutorials at the site that explain the site’s tools.

"We do know that the new site feels more advanced than it used to," he said.

Pollack said there has been a range of responses from Century 21 franchisees to the Web site changes, and the company hired an outside firm to gather consumer opinions about the site’s new features.

It’s difficult to know what kind of impact the redesign has had on the traffic patterns to the site so far, because it is very early into the launch, he said.

According to Hitwise, a Web metrics company, the redesign hasn’t hurt the company’s ranking among other popular real estate sites.

Century 21.com ranked 12th in June among the top 20 real estate category Web sites, based on total visitors from a Hitwise sample of millions of Internet users. The site had a 1.36 percent market share of total visitors to real estate sites that month. That compares to 14th in the rankings in May and April, and 13th in March.

Pollack said that Century 21 this week is launching a finehomesandestates.com site to compliment the Fine Homes & Estates magazine that the company releases quarterly.

***

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