RealEstate.com.au have a new website in the works about to be released to the public. They have been been running a closed BETA program with handpicked real estate agents and consumers to use the service and provide them feedback.
Involving agents and consumers before a product is released seems a natural thing to do but we certainly have not seen that in previous user interface tweaks. So in that light it is itself a fantastic improvement and an indicator that the company might finally listening.
I have spent a few hours with the BETA version and overall the impression is fairly good. Now since this is a beta I am not going to comment on the problems or issues on the site. Yes there are still quite a few challenges ahead for the team as it’s public release looms but that is what a beta programme is all about. Finding and fixing those issues.
So lets take a glass is half full look at it now and leave the critques to the public release. I am sure Peter Ricci will be looking at doing a full indepth review when it goes live but here is a much shorter “teaser” of things to come.
In general the look and feel of the site has not changed that much. As far as the interface goes it is more of an improvement rather than a full redesign.
The map and quick search options take more of a central role on the home page and don’t get drowned out as they do on the current version.
The look and styling is much more contemporary and not quite so old and tired looking. We are talking about small things like rounded corners on boxes, colours and shading… small things but they do make a difference. The whole design seems focussed on improving the buyer or browsers experience.
Searching is better both from the home page and the refinement tools and there is no search box on every page, even individual property pages. Search results don’t seem to be limited to just 200 properties which is about time and you now have an option to “exclude properties under offer/contract” as well as the traditional “Include surrounding suburbs”
I did notice that there is now no links to the Realestate.com.au blogs that have sat idle without an update for 12 to 18 months.
The ads are still there (honestly, who really thought they would be removed?) but I can say they are far less distracting and I believe there may even be less. Well thats the impression anyway. I cant really comment on the search results pages themselves as they do not display correctly for me at all no matter what browser I use. The property pages themselves come up fine and this is where I believe some of the best improvements are.
The design is primarily a two column design rather than the current three column design. The persistent left hand menu is now gone which means that the content takes up much more across the width of the page. Also because there is now room for the extra photo thumbnails to sit up beside the main photo they don’t eat into the centre column leaving in less space for the property description.
All in all this requires far less scrolling and is a much more functional and useable. Photos open in a new page rather than popup over the top of the property page.
The local voices information is located in a much better postion off to the right hand side rather in the main content area. this means that each column is closer to the same length making better effecient use of the page and again less scrolling.
Open houses can now be downloaded as an ical file which allows you to easily add in a click or two the details of the open house right into your calendar either on your smartphone or your desktop.
Not all changes are limited to the front end though. One of the big problems that has been a problem for a handful of agents is when a suburb name is used twice in the same state. One example of this is the Suburb of West End which is in Brisbane and Townsville. Searching for west end will always return properties in both suburbs. That is now fixed.
I believe buyers will like the new recommendation engine and the ability to compare properties in side by side comparison system.
The new design team are using the UserVoice feedback system to collect feedback from and interact with the beta testers. I have used the is system a few times from a users perspective and it is really slick allowing users to vote on current support issues and even create their own.
It’s interesting to see that feedback they are getting from consumers using this system. Here is a quick collection (not all of them by a longshot) of some of the more popular suggested ideas that would be of most interest to readers.
Popular ideas as suggested by beta testers
- Map Pins need to change colour when you’ve click on them
- Too many ads
- Show rental prices in an area I am looking to buy
- Should be an exclude auctions option when doing a search
- List the agents underquoting . Show their estimate and the acutal sale price.
Popular ideas as suggested by Realestate.com.au
- Allow me to search by a keyword
- Make it so that I can remove proeprties from my search that I dont want to see again
- The new site seems a lot quicker and I like the new design
- Show me the properties I like on the home page
Other ideas suggested by Realestate.com.au not getting many votes so far at least
- Display the number of days a property has been listed on the site.
- I like the new site but I would like to see better images
The ideas raised by the realestate.com.au are of particular interest because the give a few clues to what the team are considering integrating and in the case of the post about liking the new design, thats just trolling for compliments they can use in their marketing.
The overall improvements are very much needed but there are quite alot of bugs to sort out between now and the launch which is due in April sometime. I am glad to say that the new version will for the most part at least be a positive step forward. There will always be those that preferred the old model but they should be in the minority and I for one am looking forward to the new release.
Certainly they could have done more, and I am not a fan of everything that they have changed but with the number one site in the space you have to be mindful of the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” rule. Many users did not even notice some of the more recent upgrades to the site have they have been that minor. You are going to miss this one though. Whilst it sort of looks the same… it is well and truly different.
If anybody else has had access to the test site then please share your opinions of what you think of the site so far keeping in mind it is still in BETA and bugs are to be expected. Remember the glass is half full on this one for now 🙂