Real estate home page breakdown:

How do you feel when you visit a website?

The answer to that question is what user experience design is all about.

Good information architecture, loads of content, killer features … it’s all important, but must be wrapped in an experience that pulls the emotional triggers most suited to your brand.

If you don’t do that you end up like the brilliant doctor with a poor bedside manner; the vocalist who can hit all the notes but fail to put across the meaning of song.

It is one of the reasons why Google, for all its majesty, has failed to foster much social intercourse within the products it creates.

I bring this up because it applies to the subject of this breakdown.

This site does a lot right, in spite of the suggestions noted below. Search is prominent and relatively uncluttered. White space is abundant. The home page does not evidence signs of a turf war.

But the site lacks any anything remotely like an experience. It’s doesn’t produce a feeling that creates an association and, perhaps, an attachment, in the mind of the user.That feeling might be calm, energy, luxury, competence, intelligence, approachability, whimsy, love for a place or whatever may be most in line with the Windermere brand.

But there’s nothing here. Yet. I’d like to see them dial up the vibe!

View interactive screenshot

Breakdown below:

  1. One of our guiding principles in creating online experiences is “Be reasonable.” That means you don’t ask the user to do things that aren’t possible, things you would not do yourself, or things one would not think to do in the context, and at the time, you ask them to do it. We know that it’s not possible to “Buy a home” or “Sell a home” on the site. If that sounds like we’re harping on semantics…. well, we are. Great user experiences create trust. Asking the user to do something you cannot, literally, do on the site works against that. Better to call these things “Sell your home with Windermere” or “The buying process”
  2. Think about it. A consumer comes to this home page – for a real estate company. Are they really going to click “Blog?” They may, however, click a link that says “Market reports,” “Real estate news,” or even, to use the title of the blog itself “Neighborly News” … what lies behind the link is the same. Think about the difference between a restaurant putting a sign in the window that says “Food” versus a menu with compelling descriptions.
  3. The headings for your features need to visually connected to the things they label. Here, “Search for homes and properties” floats above the right side of the search area – and quite a distance from the main search function.
  4. Cart before horse – big time. People aren’t looking for a map or list here; they’re looking for a home. We see this a lot – it’s sort of a way to accomodate an internal map fetish while avoiding a completely unusable “Map search” experience. The rule: Get user to properties ASAP, then let them modify, refine, or select other views.
  5. This should be integrated with the main search box – it requires far too much space and distracts from that which is most important.
  6. Images are instruments of connection. Of sympathy. Of trust. This doesn’t do that. Nor do stock images (family in from of “sold” sign, anyone?). I’d like to see a photo of a real customer here, telling their story.
  7. This is better copy than you see on most real estate sites. But its goal – to make the case that Windermere is the right company to work with – would be better served by a more factual approach. Why is Windermere different? What do they deliver that no other company can? Certainly, the fact that the company is family-owned is relevant – but tell the user how that translates into a concrete benefit to them.
  8. It’s a good idea to tease some properties on the home page. People like to click on photos and we can’t forget those sellers who want to have some prime exposure. The down side of course is that any one property is almost certainly not *the* property any given user is interested in. An (albeit imperfect) solution is to feature 3-4 properties, or use a carousel. And, if you’re a company like Windermere, which operates in a large geographic space, you can make this display more relevant by sniffing the IP address of the user so I, for example, living in Northern CA, will see Northern CA properties. This too is imperfect, but better than the current solution.
  9. Does anyone really want to search “By state?”
  10. We’ve beaten this horse to a pulp – but always explain the benefits of “my_______” or “Create and account”. Give the user a reason why, e.g. “Get new listing alerts” or “Save and share properties.”
  11. Search the site or search for properties? Always name clearly, e.g., “Property search” or “Search this site”