In Which We Applaud REALTrends and 1000 Watt

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REALTrends and 1000watt Consulting have released a Top 10 Brokerage Websites report (PDF) that is worth a read for anyone who (a) works for a brokerage company that (b) has a website. We find so much to agree with in the report itself, and much to applaud. In particular:

It has been nearly fifteen years since online real estate was born. In that time, we have learned a few things about what kinds of real estate information consumers want when they go online. The NAR and the California Association of REALTORS® alone have issued dozens of research reports on this subject.

The bottom line: Consumers want these things:

1. Listings 2. Home value and market information (recent solds, median prices) 3. Neighborhood information (e.g., school reports, crime data)

If you do nothing else with your website, make sure that these elements are well executed and prominently displayed. We observed listing search elements that were poorly displayed, outdated market data, and, in most cases, a complete absence of local information. This last element is most puzzling, as the local knowledge stored within a brokerage company is a powerful differentiator – no classified site or media company can match the street-level knowledge locked within the brokerage.

With this, we heartily, 100% agree.

The only caveat we raise is that while local knowledge is a powerful differentiator, and is definitely something we advise clients to put on their website, we know firsthand the pain that is trying to acquire, process, and clean local data.  Things like crime data and school information might appear at first glance to be a simple thing to put on a website... until you wade into the weeds to try and do exactly that.

In the most un-self-serving way possible, we recommend that you let the professional data companies do that work for you.  If not Onboard Informatics, then one of our competitors.  (As long as inferior product isn't a major concern, that is....)

In virtually every case, our experience is that time, money, and human resources spent doing data processing is better spent on the other aspects of the web experience.  Rather than hiring four data processing guys, a powerful enough database to enable data manipulation, and the tools with which to do that, hire a web designer, a SEO specialist, a chief blogger, and a user experience expert.  The money will go much farther in advancing your goals.  Data gathering and processing is really such an arduous process that we can think of no real value to the brokerage by doing this in-house.

One quibble with the report -- the authors state in fairly strong, direct language:

Expunge the word “template” from your vocabulary

Maintaining brand consistency and integrity across a national network is a good thing. Applying bad, one-size-fits-all website templates across dozens (or hundreds) of brokerage companies is not.

Two national brands well represented in the Real Trends 500 painted an almost universally dismal web picture due to circa-1998 affiliate website templates.

The temptation to go with the “preferred vendor” or implement a quick template is great. They usually cost less than a custom design. But as we note above, not only are the days when “successful brokerage” and “bad website” can coexist numbered, but the cost of design and development are likely to be less than the last time you checked – if you look in the right places.

I cannot understand then how it is that Intero made it into the Top Ten list, considering that its website is not only using the Terabitz template, but is in fact just a subdomain of Terabitz (a 1000watt Consulting client, as noted in the report).  Www.interorealestate.com just resolves to intero.terabitz.com when you enter it into your browser.

If Intero's website, which is simply using the Terabitz template is a Top Ten, then presumably every single Terabitz client's website is also in the Top Ten.  This is especially the case when the features mentioned in the report, such as IDX search ("done particularly well") and integration of market and local amenity data ("stand out"), are features of the Terabitz template and platform.  Every single Terabitz client has those two features.  For example, Jonathan Bowen Real Estate, or MetroBrokersOnline.com are both identical (more or less) to Intero's website.

So why single out Intero?

Apart from the caveat, and the quibble, we applaud the work of 1000watt Consulting and REALTrends in creating this report.

Finally, we offer our sincerest congratulations to our clients, Nothnagle Realtors and The Corcoran Group for being selected to the Top Ten Best Websites list.  We ask the reader's indulgence for believing that those two websites have the finest in neighborhood, school, and market information around. :)

-rsh