Dear Brokerages – First, Get The Basics Right


Thanks to a project I’ve been working on for the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure(?) of visiting a number of brokerage websites. As I write this post, Inman NYC is in full-swing, where tech people, consultants, vendors, and experts are telling the assembled brokers and agents on the latest and greatest in innovation. Like this one:

Cool, huh?

Here’s the thing. Before you spend another minute thinking about how to incorporate drones into your real estate practice, spend some time looking at your brokerage website. And I don’t mean the sophisticated crowd-sourced user generated content stuff, or the cool new Facebook-Twitter-Instagram integrated whatever you’ve got going on. I mean the basics, like oh… PROPERTY SEARCH?


Many of your websites feature property search user interface that is absolutely the pinnacle of successful design. If, that is, your goal is to repel users as quickly as possible from your site.

Here’s a particularly egregious example, but one that is far from uncommon:

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 11.27.12 AM
User Repellant! Guaranteed to Shoo Annoying Customers Away Before They Inquire, Or Your Money Back!


Let’s leave aside for the moment how fugly this is. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all, although this particular look & feel could only be loved by the designer’s mom (and that’s questionable) and the totally blind.

The tiny box through which the user has to scroll just to select the goddamn city? And then, selecting isn’t enough. The user actually has to click the “ADD>>” button?

Should the user want to select something other than Single Family or Condo, he has to scroll in that tiny box?

Somehow, what year the property was built after or before is critically important, but the LISTING STATUS requires scrolling?

It’s 2014, y’all. Presumably, everyone and her grandmother knows that the Internet is important. Plus, if you’ve actually been in real estate for over a couple of weeks, you probably know that the most visited section of any real estate website is Property Search.

And this is what you present to your would-be customers.

Henceforth, No More Complaining About Syndication, Until…

Brokers who complain about the eeeevil portals, talk about how Zillow and Trulia are competing with them using their own data, and fret about spending thousands of dollars to do SEO… henceforth, you are not allowed to complain about any of that until you fix your property search.

Because here’s what the user interface at Trulia (I happen to think they have the best UI of the three Big Portals, but that’s personal, and Zillow and are also quite solid) looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 11.59.57 AMBe honest with yourself and ask which search interface YOU would rather use.

All the harrumphing about “accurate data” doesn’t mean a damn thing if your property search looks like it was intended to confuse, frustrate, and piss off average users. I don’t know how accurate your data is, because I couldn’t figure out how to get past your “search” screen.

Get the basics right first, then complain about the ills of the industry.

Before You Get Fancy…

Furthermore, if your brokerage website features an IDX/MLS search that looks like my first picture… in all seriousness, might I recommend that you stop all of your fancy social media marketing, all your Facebook stuff, all your QR Codes and Pinterest-for-REALTORS and whatever else you’ve got going on?

Might I suggest that you stop attending events like Inman, or learning about the latest marketing techniques, or trying to understand consumer trends, until you get the basics right?

Good news is that the fix is easy. You don’t need to spend millions of dollars or hire big-name designers to rework your whole site. There are literally dozens of semi-competent web designers out there who can offer property search that doesn’t look like it came out of a blind orangutan’s orange butt.

As you interview designers and IDX companies and whatnot, might I offer an invaluable reference for you? Here it is:


It’s a classic of web usability design, and it’s short, and it’s written for the layman. But honestly, even if you don’t read the whole thing, just read the title: Don’t Make Me Think.

Then demand that your search designers do just that.

Before you get sophisticated and fancy, get the basics right. Get the fundamentals correct.

In fact, let’s make this our joint, industry-wide 2014 New Year’s Resolution. By the end of 2014, not a single brokerage website in the U.S. will be sporting a “property search” like the one above. What do you say? We can do it, right? We have the technology. We have the will. Right? Right?

Egads, I hope so.




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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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