If you are real estate agent/company and are getting a website developed, it is important to understand what kind of features your website must have. The more features your site has, better the usability will be. The success or failure of your website can depend on the usability of your site.
I'm going to list all the features that I think can improve your website's usability and why I think they are important. I'm going to organize these features in three different sections:
- Sitewide Features - These are the features that you should have on each and every page of your website.
- Property Details Page Features - These features should be on the page where you list details of property.
- Other Useful but Nonessential Features - These are the features that you can skip if you are a startup and budget is a concern but you should definitely take these into consideration later if not now.
Mailing List/Newsletter - Most customers will spend months trying to find the right property. You should get your visitors to sign up for your newsletter and send them monthly/weekly newsletters. Send them the list of new properties that you have added recently. This way if they do not see the property they want on your website, chances are they might like one in your newsletter.
Featured Properties on Homepage - You should list your hottest properties on homepage. The properties that are very beautiful, lowest price or in a very good location. The properties that you feel are more likely to sell. Having these properties on homepage will get the maximum exposure they need and your chances of making a sale can increase.
Property Listings by Categories - categorizing the properties is very important. If the properties are not categorized, chances are the visitor may stumble upon two or three pages of properties that he/she is not interested in. If that happens the visitor may leave the site before viewing all the properties.
Property Search - Many times a user comes to the site looks at the property and leaves the site. Only to realize later that he was interested in that property. If he/she is not able to find the property second time, that sale is gone.
Advance Search - A search engine is no use to anyone if it is not able to deliver relevant results. You should always give user an ability to narrow the search down. Here are some ideas: price range, street address, city, bedrooms, bathrooms, on power of sale(foreclosure), featured properties only, property ID, MLS number, listing date, rental/sale/commercial, lot size/square footage, open house only, etc.
Sorting Search Results - This is another useful feature especially, if you have lots of properties. The visitor should be able to sort search results. This way for example, if the visitor is only interested in lowest priced properties, he/she can simply sort the search results by price ascending. This makes visitors life easier and you can rest assure that your cheapest property on page 59 did not go unnoticed.
Property Details Page
Multiple Pictures of a Property - Picture is worth 1000 words. Try to show as many pictures as possible for every property. A property with just textual description is unlikely to sell. People feel more comfortable and confident when they see the pictures.
Quick Contact Form - Every property should have one of "Request More Info", "Request a Call Back", "Schedule a Viewing" form. This form should be short and simple. It should not ask for anything more than name, phone/e-mail and message. Having a phone number/e-mail of a person interested in your property is far more important than knowing their city, postal/zip code, etc. The idea is if a person is interested, he/she can fill out this short and simple form which is right in front of them. If the form has 20 text fields, chances are he/she may not bother with it.
Printer Friendly Version Of Properties Detail Page - Most visitors will print property details before they go to see a property. This way they have all the addresses and phone numbers as well as all the details of property to compare with what they saw online.
E-Mail to a Friend - If a visitor sees a property on your site that he/she knows his/her friend might be interested in, this tool would be a very powerful tool. If you have this form under your properties, the visitor can easily fill that form right under that page. If the visitor had to go to his/her e-mail account to send the e-mail, chances are he/she might forget or get distracted.
Share This Property - After search and e-mail social media is the third major activity on Internet. Giving users' an ability to share your property in their friends circle can double and triple your chances of making a sale. Just one click on "Facebook like" button can make the property go viral and line-up the customers.
Others Useful but Not Essential Features
Rate/Review - This is especially important if you have a popular website. This way, if one visitor goes to see a property and finds it not as good as it's description, the visitor can rate/review it and other visitors do not have to waste their time on that property. On the other hand, if the property is rated good, chances are it will sell quickly.
Video - A video is the number one seller. If you can make your own videos, you can throw in some important sales pitches. If not, you can use this feature to upload a virtual tour video.
Showing Property on the Map - A visitor may not know where the street is. Showing a property on the map can make things easier for the visitor.
Save Searches - Another useful feature if you have a popular site. This feature will require a full login system e.g. register, login, forgot a password, etc. With this feature visitor can save searches for future reference. They will not need to fill in the advanced search form again. They can simply click a link in the same search results will appear. They can save as many searches as they like for example "1Bedroom Houses in CityA" and "Lowest Priced House Is in CityB"
Driving Directions To the Property - Another useful feature. Visitors can simply type in their starting address and click the submit button. The driving directions to the property will appear. This will be helpful when a visitor is going to see the property.
Compare Properties - Again a feature for popular site with lots of properties. Users can select 2 to 3 properties and compare the details on one page. This will make it easier for them to make the final decision.
Recently Viewed Properties - If you have lots of properties on your site, there is a high probability that the visitor will be going back and forth to check them. This feature will make it easier for them. You can display recently viewed properties on all the pages and a visitor can click on it from any page he/she desires.
Articles/Blog - having articles on buying and selling properties serves your website in two ways. A) You are giving your visitors important information that they may need. You might end up spending less time on the phone calls/e-mails. B) This can improve your site's popularity. Every single page of your website has the potential to rank in the search engine. So just about any page can bring you a customer. The more pages you have, more popular your site will be.
Mortgage Calculator - Just about every real estate website has a mortgage calculator. To stand out of the crowd, you can go a step further. Have the visitor fill out the down payment and term once and display the estimated mortgage amount on each property details page.
Language Translator - Essential if majority of your visitors are from multicultural areas. The Google translator is very easy to set up and can be useful. Especially when millions of people use it every day so we know it gets the job done.