There are so many real estate sites out there, and each one has certain features or aspects about them that attract certain users more than others. However, even though there are so many, it just seems that no one can really get it right.
Property Search is the main reason everyone visits a real estate website; because we're looking to buy or sell a home. You enter in the criteria you're looking for and the website shows you a list of properties matching your criteria. Clean, Simple, and Works.
Property Search + Maps
A couple years ago came Google Maps, Live Maps and Yahoo Maps, so now everyone is trying to map everything. Mapping real estate search results is just plain awesome! You can very easily visualize where the houses are. There are more and more real estate sites adding this functionality everyday. A couple of the larger ones are:
I even envisioned and build a real estate property search mapping product offering for my previous employer that first launched back in 2006 that uses MS Virtual Earth (Live Maps). And, they are having absolutely no problems selling it to their clients. Mapping is just what's Hot, especially when implemented using such interactive mapping products such as Google Maps, Live Maps and Yahoo Maps.
Property Search + Maps + Amenities
Another feature that some companies are starting to implement into there Dynamic/Interactive Map Property Search tools, is the ability to plot Amenities (Schools, Fire Depts., Police Depts., etc.). And, the ability to plot all this other stuff along with your property search results really lets you see visually where and how far away these places are from your prospective new home.
An amenity that Zillow.com shows you when you zoom the map in real close to a neighborhood is the Tax Assessed value of each home in the neighborhood along with the beds, baths and square feet of each home. This adds an entire other aspect to searching for a home; this allow you to help determine if the home is a wise investment.
Property Search + Maps + Amenities + MORE!
What more would you possibly want to map next to your property search results? Well, actually how about mixing in any mappable information possible! There are so many things that can be mapped:
- Local Sex Offenders
- Recent Severe Crime (like: murders, rapes, robberies, etc.)
- Land Elevations, such as marking flood zones
- US Census Data to show things like how many people like in that neighborhood
- Traffic density - Is the house on a busy street? Or, will I get caught in rush hour on the way home?
- Bus stops, Subway and Train stations
- Grocery, Department and other stores
- Gas stations
- Public parking
There are so many more things that could be mapped, but you get the idea.
Interactive/Dynamic Property Search
Plotting all the stuff I described above on the map with your property search results is just fine, but to really make the tool powerfull, you need to empower your user as much as possible. Once the use defines the general area (like City or County) that they are looking in, just zoom the map to there and let them see all listing that are in the area that's shown on the map. This allows the user to see all surrounding listings that are close to the area they are searching, and if they decide to search in another area close by, all they have to do is pan/zoom the map to the new area they want to search. This is a rather necessary feature that even Realtor.com doesn't support.
Websites like Digg.com have taught us that letting the community contribute to a website can really add some rich content that users want. I haven't really thought too much about all the different ways that users could contribute data and content to a real estate website, but here's some:
- 5 star rating on overall impression of Neighborhood, City and/or County
- Ability to post comments on each property listing, Neighborhood, City and/or County
- Allow users to contribute to a list of local events and festivals that can be plotted on the map
Personally, I have yet to see a real estate site incorporate any type of community interaction that gets mixed with other users property searches.
What about driving directions? Driving directions can be used to help the user plot a route to see all the open houses they want to look at on Sunday. Or, how about being able to show driving directions from any point on the map (like: Place of Employment, or any other aminity on the map) to and from the property of interest. This would be a powerful feature, that would empower the user to easily see how much longer or shorter their commute will be, or how far it'll be to take the kids to school in the morning.
Syndication and RSS
Todays internet user wants to bring all the content they're interested into a single place for them to see it. RSS feeds allow this. Alot of companies are still shy about sharing their data, but more and more are warming up to it. The following could be made into RSS feeds for users to consume in their favorite reader or on their website/blog:
- Property Search Results
- Open Houses
- Saved Properties
- Saved Searches
There are so many things with mapping and real estate that can be done, but just aren't. I'm not sure why, but we have the data, all we have to do is put it to use. If someone could manage to put all the above pieces together, it would be the next killer real estate site.
Updated 2007-10-30: Added section about RSS