A newly published study identifies what its authors say are the nine best real estate brokerage Web sites. But the study is intended to spark a discussion about what makes a good Web site, not to be the last word on the subject.
The study, released by 1000Watt Consulting and RealTrends, examined the Web sites of the 500 largest U.S. real estate brokerages, as identified by RealTrends.
After spending two months evaluating the sites, the study’s authors concluded that many brokers are "frozen in technology time while the Web progresses."
"Too often we came across sites that were windblown shells of their late ’90s glory," the study lamented. Some sites did not even provide easy access to listings or information on local neighborhoods.
Most sites were launched in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and are tied to back-end systems that also manage brokerages’ advertising, marketing and reporting functions, the study concluded. The legacy vendors that built them have not kept pace with changes in content delivery in the past two to three years.
Some companies have built their own Web platforms, which prevents them from adapting to change, the study said.
The lack of excellence among brokerage Web sites "presents a big opportunity for companies that move aggressively to pull ahead of the pack" by integrating Web 2.0 tools that include a number of free applications and platforms.
Consumers want listings, home value and market data, and neighborhood information, the study said. Sites were evaluated on four criteria: design, usability, content, and tools and applications.
Although the study was titled "The Top Ten Real Estate Brokerage Websites in America," authors Brian Boero and Marc Davison of 1000Watt Consulting identified only nine.
No one "has hit the home run we have been waiting for," they said, and not one of the sites reviewed "met the level of overall excellence that would merit the label ‘Best brokerage website in America.’ "
The report did not evaluate franchisor Web sites because they have different requirements that place them in a category of their own, the authors said.
The top nine sites identified in the study were:
Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty
The highest-ranked Web site for its "extraordinary combination of great design, content and tools." Also noted: professionally produced community videos; version optimized for iPhone; and well-written "Luxury Home Blog." Reviewers found fault with an "inordinate amount of space" dedicated to three featured properties on the home page.
This site "does the important things right," reviewers said. Images on the home page are of actual listings, not generic photos, and take users to a listing display page. News about the Dallas housing market is featured on the home page, with snapshots of neighborhood markets. Reviewers lauded the "marvelously simple and usable" IDX display, but lamented a lack of progressive features like RSS (really simple syndication) and mobile applications.
This site is "showing its age" and "needs updating," Boero and Davison said. But "no other brokerage comes close" to Corcoran’s listing detail page, which provides information on schools, amenities and demographics. Content and merchandizing are also unsurpassed, the reviewers said, with a comprehensive survey of market activity. The site did not display properly in either Firefox or Safari, which reviewers found "inexcusable in 2008."
IDX is done "particularly well," reviewers said, with search results displayed in a list and map. Intero offers iPhone optimized mobile search, e-mail alerts, and live chat from the home page. Integration of market data and information on local amenities stood out to reviewers, who called the site a "technological wonder" lacking in personality. The study recommended Intero add neighborhood videos, a blog or social media.
This site offers a "Web 2.0" look and feel for searching listings in Oregon, reviewers said, although search options are "overdone." The site offers great area guides covering demographics, shopping and dining, reviewers said, but information on schools, neighborhoods and market data is lacking. MLS rules, slated to change this year, also prevented display of addresses in IDX display.
This site was lauded for providing market data from the home page, and including real estate-owned properties and short sales in advanced search options. Agent search, often a weak area on brokerage sites, "is done very well, offering search by language right from the home page," the report noted. PMZ is in "an area particularly hard hit by the foreclosure crisis," and the company clearly "knows its customer and has responded to its market," reviewers said. The site did not score higher because of the lack of thumbnail images of homes on the initial listing results page, and listing display pages that "were a bit too Spartan and left us wondering about the properties listed." The site also lacked information on neighborhoods and schools.
The s ite’s "hyper focus" on sellers — answering "How, exactly, are you going to market and sell my home?" — differentiated it from sites geared toward buyers. But the site also offered buyers a complete set of tools including simple search interface and listing results pages with information on open houses. Many agents offered several contact options, including mobile phone text messaging, the study said.
The design of Howard Hanna’s site was panned as blocky and dated, but reviewers said it nonetheless supports the company’s brand identity, which is anchored by a "100 percent money back guarantee" featured consistently throughout the site. The site publicizes the number of homes the firm has sold, reviewers said, and "something we have never seen before: the amount of money available to be lent to customers through their mortgage department."
Built for 2008, Meybohm eschews "the cramped 800×600 optimization that characterizes most broker sites," offering a site that "displays equally well in Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari." Home search and open houses featured prominently on the home page, and each listing display includes a location map.
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