[INTERVIEW] Avery-Hess Realtors Launches Innovative New Site

This past week I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristin Maynard, marketing manager for Avery-Hess Realtors.

Established in 1992, Avery-Hess has seven offices in the Washington, D.C., metro area serving Northern Virginia; Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and West Virginia, and has approximately 170 agents.

Kristin also runs all of Avery-Hess’ social media initiatives. I’ve been following Avery-Hess for some time because I think they do a fantastic job building their local presence and developing an engaged community on their social channels.

I met Kristin in person at Real Estate Connect NYC and she recently emailed me to let me know about the launch of Avery-Hess’ new site. As I perused the site, I was really impressed by how user-friendly it is.

I asked Kristin for an interview to discuss the thought and planning behind the site!

Q: Why did you decide to launch a new website?

A: Our goal has always been to stay on the forefront of technology and offer the best possible site for our agents and clients.

Consumers today have access to numerous national and local real estate searches, as well as endless data, statistics and other property information. Their expectations of what they hope to find on a site are constantly evolving, and we want to make sure they find all that they are looking for on our site, so they don’t need to go anywhere else.

We started working to provide our users with this three years ago by creating our trademarked MyLife Home Search platform that not only helped potential clients find a property, but to also answer the most basic lifestyle question: “What would my life be like living here?” Our new website features an enhanced version of the MyLife Home Search, and adds a number of new and beneficial features.

Q: How long did it take you to complete the new site?

A: The decision to develop a new website began 14 months ago when Marc Davison of 1000watt Consulting; Amit Kulkarni, our former vice president of marketing (Amit worked on this project until he left in April to take the position of creative director at Realtor.com); our in-house Web developer Jason Springs; and myself started a dialogue discussing what we would want in a new website. The whole process from idea/design/coding/testing/launching took just under 1.5 years. We built the complete site with our in-house website development team.

Our beta site launched Dec. 19, 2011, and two rounds of user testing were conducted before the hard launch Feb. 13 to ensure we’re providing the best website possible to our clients/agents.

Q: Why was it important to include a “Search by Metro Line” in your search options?

A: For those living or looking to live In the Washington, D.C. area, the Metro is a key means of transportation for commuting to and from work. It is one of the top search criteria for those commuters when looking for a new home. By providing a Metro search that not only allows you to search by line and station but also by proximity to the Metro (as close as 0.25 miles and up to three miles away), users can easily target their search to only the properties that would best fit their lifestyle.

Results can be viewed in the “Gallery View” (sorted by distance from the Metro or by price) or “Map View” (shows where properties fall on a map showcasing the whole metro line) based on search preference.

Q: You have a slider on your site that shows “Agents Who’ve Joined You” and “Tenured.” Why was that important to include?

A: We truly love our agents here at Avery-Hess; they are the most important part of our company. Our agents represent the best of what we have to offer, and it’s why we highlight them on our site. People who use our real estate services aren’t just working with the company, they are working with one of our agents, and it’s important they understand why our agents, new and tenured, choose to be a part of our team.

Q: Your “Market Trends” section is very robust and really user-friendly. Are these done through Altos Research or another third party?

A: Yes, we use Altos Research. We loved the idea of consumers having the ability to learn more about a selected market while they are searching for a home. On our new site, users also have the ability to compare two communities and really dive into the data and see which community they should focus their search on.

Q: You have a tremendous amount of video on your site. Were those created just for this new site? How did you get the buy-in of staff and agents to get so many great videos? Were they professionally recorded?

A: We DO have a lot of video, thanks for noticing! This was a big project for us and we are thrilled with the results! We feel that in certain cases videos can better express/explain an idea or thought, and we really wanted to showcase that on our new site.

Having video was important, but it was also extremely important to us not to overlook the quality of these videos since we were working so hard on the rest of the site! So for this project, we spent a lot of time deciding on the content for the videos and then worked closely with a local production company, Eastward Films, to give our videos a professional and polished look — they were incredible to work with.

The video shoot lasted three days, and our agents/employees were actually really excited to help! They welcomed the opportunity to speak about us on camera because they truly believe in what we stand for and wanted to assist in sharing that with others. We made sure the whole process was really fun and relaxing, and even provided a professional makeup artist on set so everyone felt they were putting their best “face” forward. But as with any video shoot, we of course ended up with a GREAT bloopers reel too!

The videos were created not just to be used on our new website, but also for our social media outlets, recruiting, and for agents to share with their past/present/future clients.

We even shot a great testimonial reel that we use for a lot of our company’s promotional needs — our agents really are our best spokespeople!

Q: I notice you have a tab, “List With Us.” Do you work with more sellers than buyers?

A: We have around a 50/50 split of our agents working with buyers and sellers and wanted to make sure each is represented and highlighted on our website. Historically, we’ve seen real estate websites focus primarily on the buyers, but over time, as we’ve enhanced our website and added more in-depth search features, we’ve noticed that some of the more savvy sellers are also taking note to what we offer buyers and are inquiring about our selling services, and seeing the benefits of listing with us.

Q: Your blog is not in your main navigation bar. How important is it to your marketing/branding?

A: Our blog is featured on our homepage (below the “fold” if you scroll down) and has a direct RSS feed from averyhessblog.com. We post two to four blog items a week, ranging from area market reports that our managing brokers write to our “My Lifestyle” pieces highlighting things to do in the area, to real estate technology and policy tips and advice.

We wanted to showcase the blog on the home page, giving the users the option to browse through it but keep the main focus of the site focused around our MyLife Search technology. It’s extremely important to us that we provide original and useful content on our blog, as we encourage our agents to see us as a resource when looking for things to share on their social media profiles or with clients.

Q: What else am I missing?

A: There is SO MUCH and you hit on a lot of great features! A few other things we’re very excited/proud of are:

  • Our listings are FRESH — we update continuously throughout the day to ensure that our users get the most up-to-date property results.
  • We’ve added “Open House” and “Foreclosure Search” features and have already received great feedback on both of these.
  • On each listing page we have a number of useful tools for the user — there’s a mortgage rate calculator, a commuter’s gas cost calculator, details on the market conditions and local schools, and last but certainly not least, each listing featured on our site has the Walk Score showcased as well as area Yelp reviews to give the user a better understanding of the community, not just the property.
  • “Find an Agent” tab — this is a great feature if a user is looking to find a specific Realtor or they just want to get to know a few of our agents better before selecting the one that’s right for them. Each agent profile page has the agent’s bio, current listings and contact information for that agent — including his or her company-provided, FREE agent website!
  • And last but not least, something I’m extremely proud of — during the last round of user testing (we used usertesting.com) we asked the users to compare our site to other local real estate company sites, pick their favorite and rate how likely they would be to recommend our site to another. All the users chose our site as their favorite and gave us a 9 or 10 out of 10 rating! It made all of our hard work worth it to know we really were putting out the best website possible!

Thanks again to Kristin and a big kudos to the entire team at Avery Hess.

My big takeaway was that this company really took the time to invest in good-quality Web development, professional and easy-to-understand copywriting, and they got the “buy-in” from the organization — from the top down. Their site is easy to navigate and eliminates so much of the real estate jargon that makes real estate sites confusing to consumers. They also took the time to do it right; I love that they spent the time testing the site.

I encourage you take the time to peruse their site. It’s the little things that make a big difference. Even the larger font size makes a big, big difference.

If you have any questions for Kristin or me, please leave me a comment below. You can also check out Avery-Hess on Facebook and on Twitter.