The Internet may not be a “series of tubes,” but real estate search from a desktop is feeling increasingly mechanical, like I’m manipulating a digital marionette with three strings – my mouse, my keyboard and my monitor.
So when Joel wrote about an iPhone search app Yahoo! launched five months ago that allows users to draw a search area with their finger, I was hoping to see something like that pop up soon in real estate. It was a great way to “Take the search out of property search” and deliver a simpler, more direct experience.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Realtor.com has done this with an update to its iPhone app. And, for the most part, they’ve done it really well. So well, in fact, that in some ways it feels as if the company, which for over a decade has failed to deliver a category-killing experience on realtor.com itself, has managed to make mobile real estate search apps that don’t offer something unique (A Zestimate, for example) pretty useless.
Let me explain that a bit.
Realtor.com has always had an advantage with inventory. Their inside track to listings data gives them a more complete, higher quality representation of properties for sale than other big real estate search sites.
But amid their struggles early in this decade, and by offering a user experience that left a lot to be desired, the door to new entrants was left wide open. Those new entrants came and delivered incomplete or out-of-date listings data to users in a snappy “user friendly” experience.
I didn’t like that then. And I don’t like it now.
And while Realtor.com may never fully escape its UI history on the big screen (It is, after all, tied to its product and business model history) the handset is a different matter: This app rocks.
Let’s take a look at highlights of the new release:
Most significantly, users can draw a search area on a map with their finger. This is the vision behind scores of kludgy “draw your own search area” features on the big screen realized.
Or they can a create a small radius search by creating a “fingerprint” on the screen with their fingertip, like this:
They can even view properties for sale on a specific street by drawing a path down that street.
I stumbled moving between this drawing tool and the standard “around me” map search a bit, but this is really nicely done.
Other enhancements include the ability to share any listing via SMS, enhanced search filters and prompts for city and neighborhood names.
While I’m at it, I want to point out a couple things about this app that are not new with this release, but are nonetheless worth pointing out:
Calls to action, lead generation and conversion were not central to most early real estate mobile app builds. Most companies just wanted to get an app out and worry about making it pay later. That’s changing. Notice the call to action on the property detail screen below – it’s simple, direct and prominent:
Photos were supposed to be the Achilles Heel of mobile real estate search. But done right, I think it can be more satisfying to view property photos on a mobile device. This is the photo display for a property in the Realtor.com app. It smoothly flips into landscape mode, and fills the screen with the subject photo while keeping the filmstrip control at hand:
I’m not ditching my mouse and keyboard just yet. But the idea that I will, someday, seems less preposterous all the time.