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Real Estate site

Fred says "Scrap It"

In the original review request of Coastal Maine Oceanfront Real Estate, the author commented: For people lokking to find out about coastal Maine real estate. Search for all MLS listings. E-mail updates of new listings and price changes. Snapshots of hand-picked broker favorite listings updated monthly. "Soup to Nuts" introduction to coastal Maine.
Reviewed by: Bennie C. Taylor
 
This web site offers a great amount of information about coastal Maine. However, the entire site needs to be reorganized with greater emphasis on viewing the homes offered for sale.
      The introductory paragraphs should describe the site itself and give reasons why Bob Fenton should be our agent. Instead, we find a multitude of topics scattered down a very long page in a somewhat random order.
Edit & Organize...
Testimonials appear at the very bottom. Since there is a link to testimonials, I would not fill up space with them here.
      Cutting off the text after about 1 1/2 screens and putting the rest of the text under appropriate links in the menu would make the page less confusing to the viewer.
Intelligent linking
The menu on the left contains links to pages which describe the area and so forth. Put the most important items first with subheadings "Under $1 Million" and so on to help readers find desired information more directly.
      Add the links to pages describing the area or advertising local inns, etc. under a subheading and organize them lower on the menu.
      Another problem: once the user clicks on a link, he cannot return to the home page without closing the window. No instructions are given about closing the window, and the browser's back button is grayed out. It would be easy for an inexperienced reader to get lost right from the start.
Asking readers to register?
We have to fill in a registration form to access the Multiple Listings Service (should we assume everyone knows what MLS means?).
      A lot of people are reluctant to register because it is a hassle; we do not want to give out personal information; and we do not want to be hounded by sales calls, etc. I would have left the site immediately if I were a casual surfer.
      So it may be important to allow easy viewing of the homes Bob has chosen to feature -- without asking for the reader's personal data.
Missing listings?
Once we navigate to the featured listings, we find that many of the houses are no longer available for viewing online.
      These listings should be deleted, or, if the houses have been sold, they might be shown in another section with testimonials from the buyers.
Misplaced focus?
Trying to motivate a buyer to move to Maine and enjoy its many beauties is not a bad idea. But the placement of the mood-setting material detracts from the main objective - displaying the homes for sale.
      If you want to keep this feature, set it apart from the main content. I wonder about the focus here.
      The reader is urged to move to Maine because of its wonderful attractions and the amenities offered near the homes for sale. Certainly, this sounds very appealing. I would love to spend a summer here. But I probably will never relocate anywhere - and I wonder how many people who see this web site plan to move from various parts of the country simply because someone says it is a desirable area.
      It seems perhaps the appeal should be directed more specifically to those who are likely to be potential purchasers - and who have the means to afford the price of these homes.
      Since the prices are high and the area rather exclusive, the overall personality of the site needs to reflect that -- with a more coordinated look and feel.
Design suggestion
Pick a font color and stick with it. Avoid using multiple colors for emphasis. We do not know which heading is most important, and the many colors of font detract from the material presented.
      Here's a possible solution for putting the suggestions given above into practice: . The left menu takes us directly to the featured homes; the middle section introduces Bob Fenton; and on the right is the mood-setting promotional material.
 
Editor Notes:
Good views, Bennie. But let me sprinkle some questions here to season this review -- and play devil's advocate:
      Yes, all of the points are valid points. However, another scenario may be at play here. I just recently had experience with a client and this exact same subject material -- so I'm up to date on it. The focus may not be misplaced at all -- experience and statistics tell us that such real estate is best marketed as "second" homes, or vacation homes.
What is this site really doing?
People even considering such properties know what they're looking for and in most cases can afford it. One buyer I interviewed payed out 2.2 million in cash for an oceanfront just because she wanted to be close to her daughter's family who transferred to an adjacent city with a new job. Mr. Fenton MUST "sell the sizzle" -- otherwise who in their right mind would pay that much money for those buildings? (Grin) YES, we need to compel the viewer to believe this is the place for the perfect vacation -- and here's the perfect vacation home.
      Even with this slight wrinkle, Bennie, your other observations are well taken. This designer needs to step back and ask some hard-hitting questions:
  1. What are the most important "benefits" of the product we're selling...
  2. Why would someone want to continue reading this page,
  3. What is "special" about the product, compared to others in the area
  4. What will MAKE the viewer click the slide-show button? (Yes, slideshow... keep reading...)
Scrap the Site
With a thorough knowledge of the "oceanfront" property sales business, I believe I would scrap this site completely. We need an entirely new arrival window -- a whole new look, and a whole new design philosophy, and re-purposed content.
      Here's where I disagree with Bennie. The first thing we have to do is convince Mr. Fenton to spend several thousand bucks to set up this front page, and the programming we'll need. To make the kind of money we're looking at here, we need to spend some money on programming. The next thing we'll do is eliminate Mr. Fenton from the picture. (Brave words, yes, but essential to the mission of the site!)
      The less the viewer sees of Bob, the more real estate he'll sell. The people coming to this site aren't here for Bob. They're not even remotely interested in Bob. So right now, he's taking up valuable selling space we need to effectively lock the reader onto the page. Believe me, if we do our design job effectively, we won't need to sell Bob! The viewer will come and get Bob because they'll be anxious to get a sales contract going on that piece of property!
Sell the Sizzle
Let's inspire an irresistible urge in the viewer to see these homes -- to see everything in this web site. Let's make them feel like they've arrived at the exact web site they've been looking for.
      The first thing we have to do is make sure we KNOW what they're looking for. Then, what we've GOT to do, and do it VERY quickly, is infatuate the viewer with "being here" -- and that means selling the sizzle...
      Let's present a demographically correct couple, and/or family living the "good" life in one of these properties.
  • Boil some testimonials to essential emotions (5 to six words maximum) -- call'em "motivators" -- be sure to give each a name... "Mr. and Mrs. Windle Simpleton..." If you could photograph the Simpletons in front of the testimonial home, or on the deck, etc., would be superb.
  • Show grandparents having a wonderful time entertaining their grandchildren, and their dog. (Don't forget the dog! Er, uh, puppy!)
  • Set up a Flash, or animated gif with these kinds of "motivators" set in calm, dignified typography, and then have them change every 15 seconds or so.
  • Urge the viewer to "click" for the "homes portfolio" -- get them to click -- here's the slideshow....
  • Keep the photos of the homes under 3 to 5 second load at 56K. (The reader never leaves the page!) Not flash, not frames.
  • Each of the portfolio homes would be shot from the most advantageous angle -- and carry another short "burst" of nice, inlaid typography highlighting a feature or amenity. "View the ocean from your private whirlpool bath"
  • Make sure each has a "see more" button linking to the details about that home.

The primary objective here is to grab them, and captivate them QUICKLY. People looking for this kind of real estate are generally NOT web savvy -- and, I'll bet they're not on broadband, and aren't running the latest computer or browser. You absolutely have to make them see immediately what they're supposed to do, and how to do it. Don't confuse them -- staying on the SAME page to "click" through the portfolio helps eliminate the distraction of changing pages. (A slide show they can relate to -- Flash plug-ins, NOT!) "CLICK" -- "Oh, look at this one, honey!" Do NOT even for a moment, allow them to ask "what to do next?"
New Navigation
Yes, as Bennie pointed out, navigation to the side will work fine. But first make sure the buttons clearly show the NEXT thing the READER wants to do.
  • Offer a "Browse" or "Overview" button if the reader wants to escape the "slide show" and take an overview.
  • Offer a "compare features" button. This portion of the site should probably be a PHP driven SQL table.
  • Offer a "Map / Location" button. WHERE on the ocean front will be of primary importance! Show a regional inset too -- they'll want to know major interstates, and air travel availability.
  • Give "Local Color"... shopping, schools, cultural opportunities, and above all dining! Paint a highly desirable picture of the community. Do NOT link out of the site to other local sites. Keep them THERE.
  • Offer a button to a "pricing index" page. We need to get pricing out into the open -- yet NOT in their face, NOT in the portfolio, unless it's general figures. ("In the 200's")
  • Offer a button to Financing (if it's available.) Much of today's "nouveau-riche" want such amenities, but really can't afford them -- so make it "easy" to own.
Edit and update diligently
When a property is sold, immediately put an "Under Contract" or "SOLD" button on it -- let people see things are happening. Don't say "No longer Available" -- that's negative -- say "Under Contract". After 30 to 60 days, move it out into a "Properties We've Sold" button. Track record here is very important.
      Count on the visitor coming back -- particularly if they're serious prospects. This is why the "changing" images are very important. Real estate is NOT an impulse item. If it's a potential prospect, they'll most likely bookmark the site and return to it again and again to compare the offerings with other sites they're looking at.
      Photograph relentlessly -- when a new property comes up, get it photographed and into the mix immediately. Shoot it's best aspects on the nicest day possible. Bring along demographically correct people to be in the photos, and perhaps props. If possible photograph it before the current owner moves out. Never photograph an empty house. No one wants to live there.
      Present an inviting "details" page with style and clarity. Make the writing style friendly and brief, but tell everything about the property as clearly and completely as possible. The serious prospect will want the whole story -- they want to know about closets, and bathrooms, and everything else. Focus on creature comforts and living ease. People in this bracket want to know -- everything there is to know.
      Don't just dump text on them, either. Organize the information carefully and provide indexed, on-page links. Use the MLS data, but DO NOT USE THE MLS. Extract the information and re-purpose it to be more attractive and more inviting. (Another use for SQL/PHP)
      Quite frankly, over the years I've worked with the MLS on a number of occassions and have found those people to have the least amount of vision for money they're making! They're tight, they're lazy, and they're sitting on a gold mine -- too apathetic to recognize it.
Conclusion
In the research I've done for both vacation/second home real estate and travel bureaus, I've analyzed hundreds of sites. Very few of these sites do a good job of selling. Generally the web site is thought of as an 'add-on' or 'necessary evil.' They put too much emphasis into print media, and not enough into the real benefits of internet marketing.
      I feel very confident that if Mr. Fenton would put some on-going effort and bucks behind the above concepts, he would enjoy faster moving properties, and enthusiastic buyers. If we sell the "sizzle" properly, then the homes will sell themselves, and Bob can relax a little.
 
Posted: 9/28/2003

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