Made a rare contribution to the UTEST list, to recent thread on usability of real estate websites:
Precisely one year ago we launched our own real estate website as a joint venture, at the request of a friend who is a… real estate agent. As I follow this thread so far, I realize that our criteria for making our site ‘purposeful’, ‘usable’ and ‘useful’ were somewhat different than what is being evoked so far.
Our site sells Fine Properties, Chateaux and Vineyards (oh my!) in the southwest of France, which is really really a niche market. Maybe this fact disqualifies my comments, or qualifies them as an extreme subset, and if so, I apologize in advance.
- The site is in a language (english) that is different than the language usually spoken in this part of the world.
- The clientele is everything-but-French (mostly British, Dutch, Canadian, American, et al) and live far, far away.
- The selling proposition elicited by the properties on the site is not so much proximity to schools or malls or even price, but rather, as an American friend nicely described it, the mythos of the Meusli commercial (imagine londonian paysans under blazing mediterranean sun, scythes in hand, filling up Range Rovers with Nature’s bounty.)
- The total number of properties offered on the site at any given moment was rather small. Giving visitors the ability to search for “vineyards > 60% merlot in St. Emilion with chateau having at least 6 bedrooms, zoned for Bed & Breakfast” was not necessary.
- These types of transactions are complex sales, and it became apparent that the site’s main purpose had to be to establish contact between prospective buyer and seller’s agent so the the process of facilitation could begin. This seemingly shifts the focus away from the deep user experience that others have mentioned and is probably at the opposite end of the spectrum of for-sale-by-owner sites.
There is a long tradition of prospective buyers from northern countries coming down here with photo printouts of properties seen on a website, criss-crossing the countryside looking to identify a property with the idea of contacting the owner directly, bypassing the agent and consequently, the agent’s commission. Since this latter can equal the cost of a new Range Rover w/options, it is understandable. In any event, it makes for a great ‘theme’ vacation. At our partner’s request, some ‘cloaking’ was necessary; we refrained from nifty map mashups or anything in that tone.
With this as our brief, we compared dozens of websites, and quickly decided to get rid of much of the common functionality seen on classicly sophisticated (and I thought –still think– extremely painful-to-use) websites. What survived included:
- search on region
- easy drill down and up
- ample information and photos for each property, nicely presented.
- very easy contact
- some SEO wallpaper
That was pretty much it. The site has had a successful first year.
I can’t imagine that UTEST guidelines allow for giving the URL, so I’m spared the terrorizing thought of hoards of UTESTers visiting it and tearing it to bits. If anyone is interested, though, please send me an email.