Useful Features for Real Estate Agent Websites
May 3, 2020 5:13 PM   Subscribe

As home buyers, sellers, or renters, what type of features do you want to see in a realtor's website?

I'm a realtor who is revamping her site. My existing site is based on a template offered by my brokerage and it's very basic. I'm working with a web developer who can do a custom site and I'd like my new site to have features that people actually want and use because 99% of the agent sites look pretty similar and the search functions are no different than Zillow, Redfin, etc. the big national search sites.

What would be the most useful features that you'd like to see on a realtor's site?
- Blog posts on real estate issues?
- testimonials?
- Neighborhood guides?
- More specialized search functions like search by architectural style?
- free eBooks like Buyer/seller guides?

I got into this industry because I got fed up with the crappy agents that I encountered as a buyer and seller myself and I genuinely want to have a site that will provide value to buyers and sellers. Thanks!
posted by wcmf to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd avoid fancy dynamic content like specialized search functions. To make it work well requires tech expertise and ongoing maintenance, and if it doesn't work well, it's worse than nothing.

All of the others are useful to potential clients. Blog posts are good, especially if you have an unusual perspective; e.g., the last agent I worked with was also a lawyer, so he could write a blog discussing common legal questions around buying a house. But then, blogs also need to be updated with new posts periodically, or you risk your website looking abandoned.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2020

Demonstrate if you have a specialty of any type, or any reason a client should pick you over another real estate agent. How are you not "crappy" like other agents? Show that.
posted by NotLost at 5:53 PM on May 3, 2020

Did you find the IDX search functions on your agent's site to be useful at all? Or you feel like it can be skipped as long as the site has all the other stuff?
posted by wcmf at 5:54 PM on May 3, 2020

I got into this industry because I got fed up with the crappy agents that I encountered as a buyer and seller myself and I genuinely want to have a site that will provide value to buyers and sellers.

I would like to know more about this. I'd love to hear a bit about your story and then maybe some testimonials from people who say "wcmf didn't show us ten apartments that only sort of fit what we were looking for, they listened to us and only showed us places that were ones we really liked." or "wcmf was available over email and was a great communicator, they didn't call us at random hours even when we told them not to" (I, too, have had crappy real estate agents)

I really care about the features inside a house (I'm usually a renter, and I like older houses) so I'd want to see a lot of pictures that weren't those stagey wide-angle ones but included features like cool doorknobs or insides of cabinets or things that I'd care about and could help me make some decisions without trudging out to look at a place.

And as a seller! My agent was close to perfect had basically the dumbest site (she was with an agency) but was willing to go the extra mile and I felt really helped me get the place ready to sell (knew a lot of people who could help with some random stuff that needed doing) in a way that saved me time which was the most important thing. Knowing that ahead of time, that an agent is connected and knows people etc would help inspire confidence. Mostly I want to site to show me the things that would be dealbreakers (like maybe the house is affordable but has some land so the property tax is horrible, or maybe it looks great but is right next to a noisy elementary school) and I bet there's a way to add that information that would be good for some and terrible for others in ways that made your site feel more informative and not just showcase after showcase.
posted by jessamyn at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at house listings, and I would really like to see floor plans instead of just photos. For one house, I could not figure out how the garage connected to the house. And it would be nice to know the actual sizes of the rooms.

I’m skeptical about blog posts because I’m not sure what they could be besides generalized bullshit. Like I just can’t imagine anything useful in a real estate blog post. Maybe something really detailed about, for instance, what you should know before selling your house. But to me, most blog posts like that don’t tell me anything I couldn’t come up with off the top of my head.
posted by FencingGal at 6:28 PM on May 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

I agree about the floor plans, room sizes and dealbreakers. For example, my bedroom set won't fit in many of the bedrooms of the houses my agent showed us. We finally learned to ask about room sizes before going out.

Also, like jessamyn said, some things will be deal breakers to some people, nice features for a second group, and doesn't-matter items for a third group. If you can say what's really distinguishing about different properties, instead of just rah-rah everything, that can help a lot. Even some listings will say, "This house needs TLC" or somesuch, but they don't give enough detail.
posted by NotLost at 6:47 PM on May 3, 2020

What is IDX?
posted by NotLost at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2020

God yes, floor plans. Listing what floor various rooms are on is better than nothing, and measurements are better than nothing. I've been looking at local listings for a few months and it drives me up the wall that I have to guess which floors the bathrooms/bedrooms/laundry/garage are on. Most of what I'm frustrated by is the lack of specific details about each specific house, which may not be something you can do much about. But it's what I'm looking for.

I have used a few sites that have extra search features, and I would love them if they worked, but they typically don't. For example, even ticking "single-family houses" eliminates some listings that are definitely single-family houses. Ticking "single story" gets me split ranches with garages in the basement. One site I (reluctantly) use forces you to choose at least one but no more than 10 school districts or town names to search from. I just moved here! There are tons of little villages and towns that are all part of this metro area! How am I supposed to tell which ones I'm interested in? And why does it cut me off at 10? Argh!

I would be super interested in a series of blog posts or website pages about typical house styles in a specific area and what features they tend to have, but I'm probably the only one sooo that's likely not a good use of your time. Locally-focused information that isn't on every other site might be useful, like what part of the area gets more rain? More sun? What house or lot features make a home safer from the most common types of natural disaster in that area? What are some considerations newcomers might not have thought about, like the importance of a covered and attached garage in an area with a lot of snow?
posted by wintersweet at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2020

There's this thing realtors around here do: they put a listing ad on social media; the ad links to their website and they don't put the MLS number on the ad. Ok, so then when I click on the ad, it takes me to their website but it won't let me view the listing without "registering" by entering my name anslf email address. Or having to contact the realtor. NOPE. Don't do that. I just want to look at the whole listing on MLS myself, thanks.
posted by bluebelle at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Is your goal to have a site with a search function that pulls from a MLS with some kind of value add? Redfin exists and I don't mind using it, but find it lacking some specific things— FLOOR PLANS as mentioned, ease of information access for things like renovation/upgrade history, ownership history, and details about things like accessory structures, lagniappe garden/property stuff, nice details that might interest me about a house. I'm not sure if it makes sense to duplicate Zillow or Redfin when you could create something that works alongside those sites to bring value, but that kind of requires all your properties to be tagged with that additional data.

I rarely read blog posts because most of them feel like they were written under duress of a marketing mandate rather than a need to convey some important info. But I would totally appreciate a neighborhood guide with an accompanying graphic, showing what the de facto boundaries are, where the high street is, where the parks are for each area. Especially if that tool had selectable overlays for school districts, zip codes, county lines. I would also use a tool that lets me search by architectural style or period.

Some criteria or sample queries I would like to pose:
- homes with a good southwest exposure for a vegetable garden and nice light inside
- ranches from the 60s + 'open-plan' homes from the 70s that don't suck: how do you filter out the 70s homes with red flags in building materials or methods?
- homes in a good school district that are good candidates for a refresh like a kitchen remodel, window replacement, and property upgrades
- homes designed by architects
- some way to access information about traffic or congestion at rush hour
- a portal to view your city's crime stats reporter, public works projects, permits for a particular property eg
- homes in X county or Y school district with zoning that allows an addition or ADU
posted by a halcyon day at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are you trying to attract new clients, or be useful to your existing clients? If you’re trying to be useful to existing clients, instead of asking us, you should be asking your current clients, and people who’ve been your clients in the past year. Maybe they would have wanted to see listings personalized to them, or flow charts of the purchase process in their state/county, or recommendations of inspectors/surveyors/etc.

If you want this to be a site where people who don’t have a realtor come find you, that’s a different animal; before you invest much, be sure that a website is a thing that will convince someone to work with you. It’s possible that even the best website won’t do that much compared to word of mouth, for example.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:28 PM on May 3, 2020

Yes to the floor plans. Also, I hate these new 360 videos. I'd love a blog post about each of your listings highlighting special features of the home. As a seller, that would make me think you're going the extra mile. As a buyer, I I'd love the details.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:24 PM on May 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

hi, thank you guys for all your feedback. Really appreciate it! To clarify some of the questions that were raised.

- I would like to use the site to attract new clients.

- Many of you have mentioned floor plans. whoa, I didn't expect that. I'll try to see if that's possible with my own listings. But it's not possible for me to get floor plans on listings that are not my own. I'm in SoCal, the issue with floorplans is that many owners simply do not have them. A lot of the properties here also have unpermitted additions, for those properties, the owners may not want to publish their floorplans if there are unpermitted work on the property.

Are you guys ok with an approximate floor plan? There's an app that creates floor plans automatically by taking pictures, but it's not going to be 100% accurate. TBH, it's also an issue with legal liability if the floor plan is not 100% accurate in its dimensions and I don't have a legal disclaimer of sort. I have not been sued, but I have heard many stories of other agents involved in legal drama. You'd be surprised how litigious people can be.

- A lot of features that you guys are requesting I can include some with my own listings (because I can get more specific info about it), but it's not possible with other agents' listings that I pull from the MLS because the way MLS data are presented. For example, search by architectural style, say "contemporary", the only way for me to get this on my site is for my web developer to search for the word "contemporary" in the listing description, if the listing is a contemporary home but the listing agent doesn't use the word "contemporary" then it won't show up in the search results for contemporary. Most agents leave the housing style field blank when they fill out the listings in the MLS, so using it to narrow down the search will not be useful.

Unfortunately, agents do not always include the best description for their listings and sometimes agents will input erroneous info. For these specialized searches, it's only as good as the raw data coming in, so my hands are tied there.

-IDX just describes the technology that pulls property data directly from the MLS.

- How do you guys feel about video walkthroughs of the listings? Not a shaky video shot on cellphone but videos with a more professional look? I've not seen agents here do videos of listings unless it's a $5M+ listing. Do you care about the drone aerial shot that accompanies a typical real estate listing video? I'm thinking of adding videos and make them a standard part of my listing package, but not sure on how much value sellers and buyers find them to be since most agents here do not provide them. But some of the requests like architectural details in a home may be more easily shown in a video rather than pictures.

- If I provide links to my educational videos on YouTube on real estate related topics like, "Top 5 reasons why live in XXX", "How to Prepare Your Home for Sale", "What is a Short-Sale?", how useful would you find that info to be?

Thanks so much for the input. I appreciate all of them!
posted by wcmf at 9:43 PM on May 3, 2020

Maybe a dedicated section of your website could explain how you and the real estate industry are adapting to COVID 19, e.g. Guidelines for Real Estate Best Practices During COVID-19 and COVID-19 Guide for open houses and showings (California Association of Realtors). Reassuring clients about the safety precautions for buying and selling homes seems like a nice way to distinguish your website.
posted by katra at 10:34 PM on May 3, 2020

file this under the different strokes category, but unlike @notjustthefish i think the 360 virtual tours are fantastic. i love waking through the home, and using the measuring tools to be able to get a better sense of the size of the room.
posted by askmehow at 5:17 AM on May 4, 2020

I think video walkthroughs would be really helpful. One of the things I remember most from our last house buying experience is how difficult it was to get any sense of how a house is laid out and how the rooms connect from the photos alone.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:27 AM on May 4, 2020

A lot of the properties here also have unpermitted additions, for those properties, the owners may not want to publish their floorplans if there are unpermitted work on the property.

So doesn't this create a problem for the buyer? This seems like important information to have whether the seller wants it revealed or not.
posted by FencingGal at 6:39 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

- If I provide links to my educational videos on YouTube on real estate related topics like, "Top 5 reasons why live in XXX", "How to Prepare Your Home for Sale", "What is a Short-Sale?", how useful would you find that info to be?

I'd be suspicious of "top five reasons to live in XXX" because it sounds like advertising and in fact, that's a huge source of frustration for one area I'm looking at - clearly these people just want to sell me a house. I'd be more interested in pros and cons of living in X. Your other two sound potentially more interesting.

However, I kind of hate having to sit through videos, and I much prefer it if transcripts are available so I can skip through the parts I'm not interested in.

I guess what I'm looking for is radical honesty and information that isn't obvious. So don't tell me that my house will sell better if I improve the yard. Tell me whether I should put limited funds into the yard or the carpet. Provide statistics rather than general information if at all possible.

I guess what I keep thinking as I look at this question (and I love that you are asking it) is please don't waste my time, whether it's having me go to a house that has something that's a dealbreaker for me or expecting me to sit through a video that doesn't tell me anything I can't figure out on my own.
posted by FencingGal at 6:50 AM on May 4, 2020

Continuously updated numbers:
-how many listing you had in the past 12 months (/last year)
-how many closed
-average selling time
-completed sale $/ over initial ask $
-broken down as appropriate (condos vs. houses, neighborhoods)

There is so much fluff around real estate transactions and I don't really care about your children, pets, whatever. As a seller of my house I care whether you can sell. Providing accurate and transparent data shows confidence and competence in the one area that matters. I don't use buyers agents as I found that value proposal dubious at best, I do use realtors to sell though.
posted by zeikka at 8:51 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would never watch a video that should have been a blog post, but I may be a particular kind of person. I wouldn't love walkthough videos, but definitely some way to explain how the house is laid out is a must (I get what you are saying about floor plans) and something I don't currently get from real estate sites. Approximate floor plan even if it was drawn on a napkin would be great. I wouldn't care about drone shots but maybe just linking to the Google Maps overhead to give me an idea of how close neighbors/trees/water might be.

And I guess unless you are leaning towards a particular kind of client I'd love something reassuring about "I know there are different kinds of house sellers." Like some sellers are really going to want to invest the time and energy into staging and whatever in order to get the highest price and would like advice for that. Some of them are going to want an agent who will sell the house more or less on their terms (whatever that is) and don't want to feel harassed into getting rid of all of their family photos or repainting a guestroom. I'd like to know if you can work with all kinds of sellers or you're aiming in one direction.
posted by jessamyn at 9:34 AM on May 4, 2020

I never look at listings on agent sites, only on Zillow. The only exception is that my agent gave me a login to Aalto, a private/off-market listings site. I hate when my agent sends me links to listings on their own site; I always just go look them up on Zillow instead. I honestly have never even looked at my agent’s website. I guess it’d be more important for selling instead of buying: I’d want to see what they had previously sold and for how much? To get an idea of whether they were in the right price and quality tier of real-estate for the property I wanted to sell; knew the right kind of stager, etc.
posted by amaire at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2020

I got into this industry because I got fed up with the crappy agents that I encountered as a buyer and seller myself and I genuinely want to have a site that will provide value to buyers and sellers. Thanks!
This sounds like the thing to say, perhaps in a little more detail.

In our last three interactions with real-estate agents, we went with the first people we found who went out of their way to welcome non-white and queer people. Whether that helps or hurts them on average, I have no idea. But, my experience with the industry in general has been so awful, I'm just looking for some sign that the agent isn't a complete asshole.

I can't imagine noticing or caring about the rest of it.
posted by eotvos at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2020

I just bought a house through a realtor, so here's my buyer's perspective (I have never sold a house).

A lot of the benefit we got out of paying them (and despite being buyers we ended up paying their % ourselves because the house we ended up buying wasn't listed) was their opinions and expertise, especially with regards to older houses in the neighbourhoods we were looking in. If I was trying to find a realtor again I would want to see stuff on your site that indicated that you knew this kind of thing, so, blog posts and neighbourhood guides would be a plus. I can't see specialized search features being a big benefit to a potential buyer--isn't that why they're engaging you, to be the human search engine?
posted by quaking fajita at 3:27 PM on May 4, 2020

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