A website redesign often involves little more than putting a new look on the same old capabilities and content.

Over the course of the next year or so, watch for Realtor.com to do the opposite, offering a range of new capabilities without radically altering the site’s appearance.

Realtor.com is currently beta testing new search tools that enable consumers to find and evaluate agents based on criteria such as the Realtor’s area of specialization, languages they speak, and the number of listings they are representing.

The Realtor.com beta site, which officially launches today, also sports some snazzy map-based search capabilities, serving up information about individual properties, neighborhoods and housing markets that can help buyers and sellers get a handle on recent trends.

Map-based searches show neighborhood boundaries and can display heat maps of home prices or property valuations. Users can zoom in to the parcel level to click on individual properties.

The site allows consumers to call up information about individual off-market properties culled from public records, including tax and sales history, and see automated property valuations based on those records.

In some markets, users can access recently sold data provided by multiple listing services, and see selling price, photos of the property, and who represented both the buyer and seller.

In the 50 markets where MLSs are providing sold data, the Realtor.com beta site rivals the capabilities of password-protected virtual office websites (VOWs), which let consumers see data on recent sales.

Officials with Realtor.com operator Move Inc. say the new capabilities are intended to help Realtor.com maintain its position as the most visited real estate site on the Web. The goal is not only to put more information into the hands of consumers, but helping them find a real estate professional to interpret it.

"I don’t view this as being competitive with a site like a John L. Scott or a Redfin, but complementary," said Realtor.com President Errol Samuelson. "At the end of the day, the ‘Find a Realtor’ tool links back to the agent."

The features now in beta testing offer improved access not only to listings data and parcel-based property information, but to what Move claims is the most comprehensive — and accurate — database of Realtors on the Internet.

Can’t remember the last name of that Realtor you met at a cocktail party last week, or the agent who helped you on that house hunt two years ago?

An improved "Find a Realtor" search tool now allows location-based searches using part of an agent’s or company’s name — such as "Rosemary." The initial search can also filter for designations and certifications and the number of active listings an agent represents.

Unless they choose to suppress such information, agents’ profile pages will show the number of active listings they have, the average listing price, and their designations and certifications.

Profile pages also display areas the agent serves and recent updates to their listings.

If agents "claim" their profile page, they can add a bio, their areas of specialization (such as "buyers agent" or "relocation specialist"), and links to their social networking pages like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

In addition to tracking how well consumers take to the new search features, one goal during beta testing is to get as many agents as possible to claim their profile pages, Samuelson said, which they can do at no charge.

(For an example of a Realtor profile page that combines statistics pulled from Realtor.com’s database with information provided by the agent, see Joliet, Ill.-based Realtor Rosemary West’s profile page).

The Houston Association of Realtors recently introduced a tool that lets consumers draw a shape on a map on the association’s public-facing MLS site, and see how many transactions and listings agents have within that area. Some less experienced agents worried that the tool might put them at a disadvantage to more experienced agents (see story).

Samuelson said giving consumers the ability to see the number of listings an agent has can cut both ways, since some sellers might view the agent with the most listings in their market as the most experienced, while others would rather list with an agent who has fewer listings and can provide more personal attention.

Although Realtor.com will allow agents to suppress the number of listings they have, those who do won’t show up at all when consumers search for agents with a specified number of listings.

"One purpose of the beta test period is to see if that’s the right direction to go," Samuelson said.

The new property-search capabilities are made possible by a rebuild of the Realtor.com backend to allow improved access to information that had previously been scattered across a number of databases.

Using the same technology as the "Find" search tool Realtor.com is offering to MLSs (see story), Realtor.com plans to make more of the backend’s improved capabilities available to consumers in the next year, said Move spokeswoman Julie Reynolds.

Realtor.com beta site screenshot.


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