Want to build a real estate portal? (updated)

Well its seems everyone wants to have your money folks – I don’t think it will be long before Sensis announce something as well, maybe similar to their announcement 3 years ago of an impending national portal.

So here is what I think is important when building a national portal that agents could embrace.

1. Listings come first. A user visits a real estate portal to view property information. They do not visit a portal to have pop-up pop-overs or ads all over the place. Build a site for visitors first. Make is easy to get the data they want.

2. Make it simple for a user to contact an agent, form to email at the top of the page, contact numbers clearly displayed. Why do some portals have these forms hidden away?

3. One type of listing only: Each agency gets the same priority as other agents, none of this platinum, premium, super platinum, super duper titanium type membership packages. The difference between you and your competition is in the presentation of the property, the photography, the tours, the text content, the videos, the sound commentary, this is what sets you apart from the others, not getting more visits to a listing because you are at the top. This is just money making gone mad and gives agencies no benefit except for a bigger bill………….. and anyway if all agents in the same area are on these super plans who benefits?

Note: If I am buying a property in St Kilda – Do I only look at the first few? They might get more page views but this does not mean they sell any quicker than others?

4. 3rd Party Advertising: Yes, portals have every right to have advertising alongside listings – but in my mind only if it is complimentary. The Mortgage Calculator can be sponsored, an Insurance Calculator can be sponsored, but lets get one things straight – the property data comes first. The rest of the ads are just pure money making on the back of your listing – someone please show some initiative and build an advertising system that does not annoy the user.

5. Create an Open Standard for Measuring Visitor Numbers: Only the big end of town can afford Nielson Netratings and Hitwise etc. I would like to see an open standard for measurement. A code that we can all put into our site. There was one many years ago but it was purchased by one of the big measurement companies and then shut down – how nice!

Nielson Netratings rates all the most popular real estate sites in Australia – but only about 15 sites are measured, so Joe Bloggs real estate could have 1 visitor (from his mum) and say he has one of the top 20 real estate sites in Australia, yes it may be reasonably accurate for the top 2 or 3 but it is useless data for the rest.

6. Yes you are FREE now, but what are the ongoing costs once we start paying, do you have a set price rise per annum? CPI or 2% seems fair to all concerned. Agents should have it in writing from the beginning, if they are going to make you popular (and then allow you to make millions from 3rd party advertisers alongside their listings) then they deserve this in writing from the beginning.

7. RSS. Full RSS Features for members of a site to be able create their own unique feeds of listings and have them delivered directly to their browser/vista desktop or Outlook 2007.

These are just some floating ideas – tell us what else you think is important, how else can these portals get closer to providing a positive solution for agents and consumers? I wonder if the Real Estate Institutes had asked these questions from the beginning on behalf of agents instead of supporting one or another portal simply because they gave them money – if things would be a little different now…..

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15 Comments

  • Paul D
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 2:24 pm 0Likes

    Great Formula Peter. I think sometimes agents get a bit carried away with their own importance. They love seeing their name and logo up in lights, and as is mentioned elsewhere on this site, they are prepared to pay more for the top spot and so on. The general public are more often than not, interested in the property rather than the agent. I guess there are exceptions to that, but the vast majority of the 3% of the population who are currently looking at real estate, look at price and location, then perhaps at the agent. The agents who predominantly use print are swayed by the fact that the SMH etc have huge (shrinking) circulations and they think that heaps of people will look at the property just because it is there.

    97% of the people are not interested. Some look at it for interest sake, but basically they are not in buyer/seller mode. The internet forces people to actually have to engage in a few steps to look, not just pick up a paper. So the enquiry is immedaitely better qualified.

    The thing that keeps the idea of platinum, gold, top of the list, bigger logos etc, for agents, is the need to see your name at the top of the list. I have seen suburbs where the first 10 or 12 pages are these agents paying a premium, and not really getting an advantage, because everyone else is paying the premium too. That is really stupid. Being number 100 in a list of 200 really has no great advantage, because as you rightly say, it just costs more. The advertising people love this, because they can charge more, for basicaly the same service. And to pay more for your logo to be on the ad is just as crazy, because when the property is looked at all that information is available in any case.
    When you build a portal like that count me in !!!!

  • Peter
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 2:32 pm 0Likes

    Thanks Paul

    Some very valid arguments, although I think many agents are on platinum etc because their rivals are.

    The logo issue is probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen from a portal, but when you are the biggest you can dictate these things. The cost to the portal would be zero – so only reason is money!

    As for me developing a portal, it is not in my plans, I prefer to concentrate on my bread and butter.

    If I were to build a portal it would be type or state specific and more than likely for a client.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 6:30 pm 0Likes

    Peter,

    I think that many portals would do very well to [right click & save] on your property portal vision. I would think that quite a few would be re-assessing their policies on a variety of issues.

    The best initiative that I have seen so far from my perspective is last page search return that Domain developed and myhome replicated also. Bypassing homepages is a bonus to anyone searching for properties.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 6:38 pm 0Likes

    Hi Robert, it is a nice little tool, but useless for people who like me clear their cache on every close of my browser. It basically just stores a cookie. What I think is much better is the RSS features. Although information is sparse that is included.

  • Mark Cohen
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 1:03 am 0Likes

    (I work for domain.com.au)

    Hi Peter,

    Just a quick note – you mention rss as a good feature. Domain has rss. If you do a search you’ll see the rss icon in your url bar in Firefox, and an rss icon on the search results whichever browser you use. This links into your search, but sorts by date (newest first) unlike the suburb sort which is the default for the browser.

    I’ve just had a quick look around at the competition and I believe we were again first to market with this feature.

    Mark

  • Peter
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 7:08 am 0Likes

    Mark Cohen from Domaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin!

    Great to have you hear Mark and great to see Domain participating….

    RSS: Yes I use your RSS feature everyday Mark and yes, you were the first to do it in Australia at this level, but take it further.

    As example: At the moment I get a small thumbnail (in Outlook 2007) and a headline and description text, ADD the ability to have price, bed, baths, floor size and land size, this will save me more time (and all users) and may result in less visitors, but you will make it a better experience than it currently is (and I do like it)

    Also as a member (because I know you cannot do this without me logging in) , how about trying (after I login) to have a full search criteria for me to create my own RSS feed.

    When I say ‘me’ I mean everyone.

    This feature already saves me time, but lets take it a step further to stay ahead of the competition, who will have this up within a week! 🙂

    Great to see you hear Mark and welcome to all from Domain.com.au

  • Michael
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 9:24 am 0Likes

    Netratings and Hitwise – should be wanting to provide code so that they can provide an accurate VERTICAL report. Netratings indicated to me about 15 months ago they were working on that – but as of yet have not seen anything.

    Hitwise statistics are sourced through the ISP and as i understand they have no agreement with BIGPOND – so they provide statistics that exclude the use of the largest ISP in Australia (BY A LONG WAY).

    For such an important segment you would like to think there was a solution on the horizon. (Alexa doesn’t really cut it – but is useful for anyone who wants to see graphically how far in front the big two are)

    I would happily contribute to any group that could facilitate a better measurement for visitors within the real estate vertical.

  • Mark Cohen
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 3:03 pm 0Likes

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the warm welcome 🙂 I’m a technologist and so I would be the first to say that anything I say outside of technology is beyond my core expertise. Having put that disclaimer up-front, I’d agree with you regarding the usefulness of rss in Outlook 2007 etc. I also agree with you regarding the trade-off between usfulness and page impressions. If myhome gets any traction their new site will help make page impressions lose meaning, and that’s one metric who’s funeral I’d like to see.

    we intend extending the rss feature a whole lot more, and I hope we pleasantly surprise you 🙂

    Mark

  • Barry
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 6:21 pm 0Likes

    I am a agent on the central coast, also stumbled across this blog a few weeks ago. What a great community of opinions Peter.

    What a great place to discuss our needs and wants to the people in the portal businesses, as opposed to the sales people.

    How brilliant to see someone from domain!

  • Peter
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 6:28 pm 0Likes

    Hello Barry

    And wlecome to our little community (not so little any more) but we still like any new visitors especially when they are prepared to share their views.

    So feel free to let it all hang-out and share your ideas and opinions.

  • John (Licensed Land Agent)
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 10:52 pm 0Likes

    Quote: “2. Make it simple for a user to contact an agent, form to email at the top of the page, contact numbers clearly displayed. Why do some portals have these forms hidden away?”

    I agree totally.
    Lets put my prospective buyers hat on now.
    I get cheesed off on a daily basis when I use my favourite portal in Adelaide SA guess??? (www.realestate.com.au). When this site allows Agents to advertise properties for sale without full disclosure of full street address and appropriate pricing eg a “stated price”. This practice wastes my time because I have to contact an agent to find out this information before I even start my shopping. My time is precious! Agents in many cases do not get back to you, or take ages to respond.
    If only the vendors knew this is happening, their propery listed with these agencies that do not do the right thing ethically by them.
    Also the mapping function on this portal is useless if properties listed have no full street address stated. They do not register on the map.
    In my opinion this practice needs stopping ASAP. Stop it http://www.realestate.com.au!
    The most important customer is the shopper or browser looking to buy a property listed on the particular website. NOT THE AGENT advertising.
    Commission paid to agents comes from buyers!!!!

  • Peter
    Posted March 4, 2007 at 1:00 am 0Likes

    John

    As you may be aware each State Government controls each real estate industry. Some vendors want their price hidden, some agents want people like you to have to call them.

    It really is not up to REA or any other site to control this. I can understand your frustration. You should take this up with your local state government representative.

  • Elizabeth
    Posted March 4, 2007 at 10:46 am 0Likes

    Dear Mark,

    Welcome to the blog. It is so good to have someone from domain here at last.

    It will be great to have you contribute over coming months.

    Tell me, from a domain perspective, what are your thoughts on myhome?

    E

  • Mark Cohen
    Posted March 4, 2007 at 12:55 pm 0Likes

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Sorry to shy away from your question, but I’m in technology and not in sales or product. My comments on myhome would always be of a technical nature and I assume that’s not what yo’re interested in? 🙂

    Technically, I think their usability is going to go through a few more rounds before it reaches what they would be hoping for. Microsoft maps were a good call for them considering REA and Domain both use Google, and Microsoft are apparently talking about having oblique aerial photographs (as opposed to directly overhead) in Australian metro areas. I think their floorplans are presented really nicely too, and as a geek I like their use of Ajax, which makes the site much faster but means that page impressions become a difficult or meaningless metric (I think that is good too)

    First thing I did on the morning they launched was sit my wife down and ask her to look at houses in our neighborhood, and I sat and watched her. She got really annnoyed at the same features / issues that annoyed Peter in his review, only much more so as she’s way less technical than Peter.

    I think the myhome IA team would do well to read a book called “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug.

    (http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Make-Me-Think-Usability/dp/0789723107)

    Mark

  • David Rob Slattery
    Posted March 4, 2007 at 9:02 pm 0Likes

    HI Mark

    Great to see you on this blog. Please bring on domain people, as this is starting to become a Dave Platter myspace page.

    We all want a challenger to REA. I am a fan of your portal, a superior website and one that my vendors consistently prefer to be on.

    You link to a book above about good website practice. Tell me, how could you have released the adore website? It doesn’t appear technically advanced, and the area where operate is portrayed in a incorrect manner (north side of Sydney). Saying that, I believe there is a market for a prestige listings.
    Will you be accepting feedback to get this fixed?

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