A different kind of real estate website

Could it be done?

Standing at the front of the room I drew a simple triangle on the whiteboard. The points were labelled:

  1. Consumers
  2. Agents
  3. Franchisees

We were about to embark on a complete overhaul of Sotheby’s International Realty’s (SIR), website. But first, we had to decide upon the one audience for whom we were doing this.

We were at a crossroads.

To SIR’s lasting credit, the room was unanimous and unequivocal.

We circled #1.

And so began a journey that culminated this week in the launch of the brand new sothebysrealty.com.

* * *

Our first priority was to rethink the homepage. Years ago, SIR had been the first real estate brand to feature high-resolution, full-screen imagery of their properties on their homepage. In a world full of stamp-sized thumbnails at the time, it was revolutionary.

Fast forward to 2014, however, and nearly all of their competitors and virtually every other luxury real estate website had aped and adopted this convention. Aside from the logo in the upper left corner, it had become difficult to tell one luxury real estate website from another.

The mandate right then and there was to make another leap forward. As a group, we sat in that conference room and brainstormed many ideas, but it quickly became apparent that the answer was staring us in the face.

SIR had made a significant company investment in cinematic quality video and had built up a rather remarkable collection of beautiful short films that we sat watching. We decided right there that by using some of the recent advances in web technology we would embed short 15-second video clips directly into the homepage itself.

Screen Capture on 2015-04-03 at 09-31-01

Where there were once static photos, now the page truly “comes to life” and tells the brand story in a completely new way. The result is jaw-dropping.

* * *

Moving off the homepage, our next priority was to honor and showcase SIR’s listings in a completely new light as well.

Again, the mandate was to do things that no other real estate brand was doing. More directly, it was to do things that no other real estate brand could do.

It was so refreshing to not have to play in the mess that is IDX. We had no rules. It was so liberating. I honestly wonder why more companies don’t choose to jump out of that sandbox and join the fun.

We aimed to build an experience that was more broadly inspired by the luxury world. So we studied other luxury brands – from the art and auction world to automobiles and watch manufacturers and fashion brands. We learned how they presented their products.

We then created a way for consumers on sothebysrealty.com to refine their searches by “Extraordinary Angles” – meaning they could choose and compare the room photos on each listing search page.

On the detail pages for every SIR listing, we built long scrolling experiences that honor and help tell the stories behind every home, including the community in which it is located. We even included space for the owner’s voice to be heard.

* * *

Once we had perfected the property display, we knew we needed to build new and interesting ways for consumers to connect to these properties. We also knew from our research that location was not the only way that luxury consumers wanted to find properties. A simple search field wasn’t going to cut it here.

With SIR’s guidance, we built a lifestyle search experience that included ways for consumers to refine their searches by architectural style and features. And as one of the few real estate brands with truly global reach, we also had to ensure the entire website experience could be instantly translated to dozens of currencies and languages.

This global perspective also gave us the unique opportunity to focus on location content that would call attention to the unique qualities found in the markets SIR serves around the world.

* * *

It was an ambitious undertaking. And of course, everything we designed had to be responsive down to the mobile form factors.

At times, the complexities were overwhelming, but the inspiration to keep moving forward could always be found in the memory of that first meeting. We were building a real estate brand website designed with only one audience in mind.

I believe they accomplished this goal. But this is only the first step of what I think will be many more to come.

(A special thanks to Philip White, Wendy Purvey, John Passerini and Scott Seubert for their leadership and vision on this project.)