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Real Estate Classifieds
Big changes ahead for the home listings business

By Alan Jacobson, Brass Tacks Design

The current state of real estate Web sites reminds me of a story: Two old women are summering at a Catskills resort. One of them says, “The food here is so bad.” The other responds, “and the portions are so small.”

I’ve visited many real estate sites. Most fail to satisfy the appetites of consumers who want two things: ease of use and comprehensive listings. If you don’t believe me, pretend you’re a home buyer and go visit a few sites.

In this state of disarray is opportunity, of course. Any site that captures the magic mix of great design and quality content can be a big winner. To understand how important design is, consider Four years ago, while Yahoo!, Altavista, Lycos and others were already firmly established as search engines, Google didn’t even exist. Yet this upstart now holds the No. 3 spot, surpassing even America Online. How? With fast downloads, ease of use, clean design, and quality content. Visit Google as a consumer and you’ll see how simple they’ve made it.

To be successful, a Web site’s design must be jealously protected from the whims of publishers, general managers, art directors, technicians and advertisers – in short, everyone who’s not the consumer. This is not to say that advertisers should be ignored – quite the contrary. Realtors want leads, so every real estate page should include easy ways for consumers to contact Realtors via phone numbers and e-mail.

But catering to Realtors does not mean cluttering Web pages with postage-stamp sized, animated ads that annoy site visitors. These ads may produce some revenue in the short term, but ultimately they may drive the user from the site forever.

In his book, Designing Web Usability, Internet usability expert Jakob Nielsen identifies seven criteria for successful Web sites:
  • High-quality content
  • Frequent updates
  • Minimal download time
  • Ease of use
  • Relevant to users’ needs
  • Unique to the online medium
  • Net-centric corporate culture

The application of these criteria is obvious, but one – “Unique to the online medium” – deserves special attention at real estate sites. These sites can provide selective searches using multiple criteria (price, location, features, etc.) and virtual tours of listings. Armed with these two powerhouse capabilities, I don’t see how traditional advertising can compete. Put a different way, it’ll be difficult to compete with any media company that can harness these capabilities on the Web.


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Hartford Courant

Omaha World Herald

Daily Press, Newport News, VA