The Swiss Army Knife problem

Realseekr launched this week. The site is the newest among a group of IDX-based search plays, which includes Roost, Terabitz, Estately and others.

Here’s what I like about it:

  1. The listings strategy. IDX is the way to go if you can stomach the legal, political and data hassles
  2. The integration of chat and SMS
  3. Grant Freer, founder and CEO. He’s smart and has an infectious enthusiasm I really like

But these things are overshadowed, in my mind, by a problem that afflicts many in the online real estate category: Lack of focus.

The site, like a Swiss Army Knife, does many things but doesn’t do any one thing especially well (if you’ve ever tried to use the little scissors or saw on the Swiss Army Knife you know what I mean.) It offers some home search, some local/social stuff, blogs, agent search and more. The site suffers from bad information architecture and I struggled with the extremely busy user interface.

One of my favorite books on Website usability is titled “Don’t make me think.” When I look at the Realseekr home page, I have to think a lot:


Here’s just a sample: The consumer and industry facing messaging here is mixed, so I have to parse that. Then I need to think about what the check-marked benefits mean. For example, what does “Make friends and connections” mean here, on a real estate site? As a consumer, I may think, “what does “FSBO” mean?” I also have no idea what “featured properties” means. Why are they here? And in any case, any of these “featured” properties is almost certainly not the one property I ultimately hope to find (if I’m a buyer).

And it’s quite possible (again, if I am a consumer) I will not know what any of these three search categories mean:


I’m not picking on Realseekr. I just think it’s the most recent example of a larger trend in online real estate: Scope creep, feature bloat, Swiss Army Knife Syndrome … whatever you want to call it — there’s too much out there that’s too complicated.

I’ve been thinking this about Zillow for some time now. It does not suffer from the IA and usability problems Realseekr does, but it nonetheless seems a bit scattered to me.

I think about this like the difference between going to a barbeque and going to get a haircut. At the barbeque, I’m up for anything: A beer, a margarita, a little frisbee, some grilling and playing around with the kids. When I go to the barber, I’m there for one reason, and there’s no confusion about what I’m going to get.

Online real estate, for those who are serious, is more like getting a haircut. I want something: A home, a mortgage, an agent — not a half-satisfying taste of everything seasoned with a sprinkle of serendipity.

There are exceptions, of course. Companies that get lifestyle media and marketing can pull off a more experiential, less utilitarian sort of site. The thousands of Active Rain members demonstrate that real estate pros are willing to socialize online.

I just don’t think that’s where most will succeed.

The brass ring lies in making something complicated astonishingly simple.

Brian Boero