The Lame List – Real Estate Web Sites that Suck

evccliftIn a recent post, Galen said “And no, it’s not what Windermere or ZipRealty already do: their sites s-u-c-k compared to true consumer-oriented sites like and Google.”.

Now, comparing nearly any web site to Amazon or Google isn’t a fair comparission. Google & Amazon have 1) many of the best software engineers on the planet working for them and 2) they have thousands of them working on their web site. Microsoft (which is in the same league as Google & Amazon) is said to spend over $100 million/year on it’s corporate web site (I’m sure they spend even more on MSN)!

The only real estate company that I can think of that could afford that level of R&D is Cendant (they own Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and ERA). Ironically enough they also own Orbitz & (who are Expedia competitors). The vast majority of brokers are probably smallish companies that under-invest in technology (and Cendant is probably happy enough with the status quo that they aren’t going to rock the boat until the waves of change force it upon them).

Now, I do think ZipRealty’s site is medicore and Windermere’s site is average. But suck is way too strong a word. Could their sites be better? Yeah. But given they aren’t billion dollar internet/software companies with multi-million dollar R&D budgets, I think the sites are OK. I could do better, but don’t mistake a medicore site for one that sucks.

What I want you to do is tell me about the WORST agent & broker web sites out there. I only want to hear about the truly awful. Let me give you an example of how bad it can be.

Teri Herrera, is a very successful agent at John L. Scott with whom I purchased my first house with. However her web site makes me cringe in horror. Fortunately, she’s a much better agent than her web site would suggest, but her site is nothing but a flash link farm. Nothing of value other than links to other places and it’s wrapped up as an obnoxious flash app. At least ZipRealty & Windermere have branded MLS searches, instead of being just a link farm or framing somebody else content.

See, ZipRealty & Windermere look pretty good now, don’t they.


56 thoughts on “The Lame List – Real Estate Web Sites that Suck

  1. Robbie, those sites don’t suck compared to agent sites, but they really do suck compared to other service-industry sites! Windermere is one of the best brokerage sites I’ve seen – they even show houses on maps. BUT! The map takes forever to load, the interface is goofy (they have 8 search sections or something), and they have the bare-bones of what could be a good real estate website. You want an awesome site for comparison? – great search interface, easy to use, very web-focused. You can “compare” 4 plans and do a full interview for what you want.
    A good site in the real estate industry? Windermere and Zip definitely have the resources available to Trulia.

    It’s really not that difficult to put up a database of homes and let people save homes and searches. You, a one-man operator, have almost reached the functionality of the big-leagues. I know you’re talented, but the big firms really should be able to hire 2 or 3 talented people and do something better.

    Obviously comparing the brokerage sites to agent sites is entirely unfair – I haven’t seen one agent site that looks professional. Present company and readership excluded.

  2. Honestly, I think Windermere’s site is like the Google of Real Estate sites. Before this year, Real Estate hasn’t been a very tech friendly industry. I mean sure agents have infrared keys that open up a house but beyond that mention HTML and CSS and they’ll think you’re talking about a contract abbreviation (see STI).

    Here’s some examples:
    Watch out for the attack of the colorful Greg’s
    This site is stuck in the mid 90’s with tables and buttons galore
    I want to kill my computer.

  3. Now this is a REALLY dangerous topic…

    Believe it or not, when I first went to build a website for Anna (pre-blog) days, I went through every website that is listed (or at least was listed) in the Open Directory. (This is essentially a free, moderated directory of websites that is known to be one of the inputs to a site’s google ranking. If you’re a real estate website in Seattle and you are NOT on this list, then you obviously haven’t done any useful SEO!). Anyway, I went through the list and noted what was good and what was bad on EVERY site (I think there were about 180 sites I went through).

    I haven’t ever wanted to publish this information because I don’t need the liability on Rain City Guide (hint… hint…), but I will say that I found it most interesting how many sites used exactly the same template.

  4. Marlow,

    I’ve always thought that your site is awesome and if I wanted to design a “website” as oppose to a “blog”, I would definitely use your site as a guide! You’re personality is all over the site which is HARD to do!

  5. So, I just looked through my notes and here are some things that I CAN share:

    Best Promotion: Sonics Tickets

    Runner up: Starbuck’s Card

    Worst Promotion: Free Gift turns out to be a mortgage calculator and/or Home Inventory Tool.

    Most Faith in Her Referrals:
    “Please exercise your own judgment regarding all of the following contractors and/or businesses. Cynthia von Suhr does not guarantee the quality of the services of the parties listed below. In no event shall Cynthia von Suhr be held responsible for their performance or lack of performance.”

    Most Politically Correct: “Welcome” in 29 different languages.

  6. XXXOOO!

    Thanks for the compliment. But I’m embarrassed to admit it’s just a tweaked template site that I’ve played with. I have absolutely no computer skills whatsoever One needs to prioritize, after all. And I choose to spend my time helping customers and clients, rather than learning html.

    But, I acknowledge it may be the wave of the future.

    Yet I’m not convinced it’s the end-all/be-all of real estate success.

    Don’t we all know agents who don’t have any website at all, yet get million-dollar listings, just through social connections? Those kind of agents will always be with us.

  7. Max, I know your name from the AA site.. I think you just answered my questions about meta-tags this morning on the AA forums. Was that you? I think so…. thanks again!

  8. I am from the AA forums, but I don’t think I answered any questions about meta tags this morning πŸ™‚ I think I posted about the Zillow and left a couple of links to this blog, but then after reading you blog I saw that you were regular reader of the raincityguide πŸ™‚

  9. Wow! That’s so cool! I’ll add you to my websites too!

    I love all this networking and linking for popularity.

    It’s almost like high school, but without the pimples…..

  10. Max,

    I really like how you have Marlow’s blog posts along side her site! That’s a great feature! and now I feel left out! πŸ˜‰ I’m going to submit Rain City Guide, but obviously, it is only a blog, so I’ll be curious to see how you organize it!

  11. Umm.. Dustin, you have to submit a real estate site to the directory – the blog feed is just an addition to regular real estate website listing. Let me know if you have reale state site to submit to the directory – if not, I can link to your blog from my own resource page. I really like this blog and starting to become a little fan of it ;)lol

  12. Max,

    I just added your banner ad to the sidebar of my “beta” site (and it looks good), so I’m just about to promote it to the “live” site… So, hopefully, we can find a way to include Rain City Guide!

  13. Dustin, this really means a lot to me to be on the homepage of the raincityguide πŸ™‚ I liked back to you from my homepage at – on the left hand side under Favorite Blogs – I just created the block, so you’re only the one there, but I have a lot to add πŸ™‚

    Also here is your listing and its located at

    Hope this helps you guys πŸ™‚ If there is anything else I can do – I’ll be happy to assist! Thanks for the link Dustin! πŸ™‚

  14. All-in-all I agree that the real estate industry is way behind on the consumer experience. I think the problem may be that they are still focused on it as a medium for brand awareness and a “check box” of “yeah, we have a website too”.
    My brokerage, Coldwell Banker Bain, is investing a lot of money this year in updating their site and improving the user experience. For example, you can pick which agent you want to work with online, save search profiles and have daily emails sent of new matches.
    Even with this, they are missing the point. As the agent that gets picked, all I receive is an email with their contact info. No information about what they’ve looked at, desired neighborhood, etc. It’s a total disconnect.
    As to agent sites — well, most are not that technically savvy on SEO, website development, SFA(sales force automation), etc. They are generally directed to a vendor that spins out templated sites. Nobody is educating them that they are spending a lot of money for a site that will generate zero SEO benefit because it has the same content as 200 other sites.
    Now I’m all for hearing any constructive criticism about my site, but it’s also an evolving beast. It’s primary purpose at the moment is branding and positioning on search engines for target market. As that kind of site, it’s there to meet my goal of expanding my client base.
    Blogging comes next. Then at some point, an SFA system where my clients can login to check status of deals, summary of homes I’ve previewed, signed documents etc. Ahhh…I’d have it all done now…except at some point I still need to get out and sell houses. πŸ™‚

  15. To be fair, I think all rules changed with the introduction of Google Maps last year (and to a lesser extent, with the release of MSN Virtual Earth and RedFin). Nearly everbody is playing catch up, so the fact that real estate industry is behind isn’t surprising. The fact that so many don’t seem to realize how far behind they are surprises me more. However, as they say, first step to recovery is recognizing the problem.

    As you pointed out, part of the problem is that most agents are not that technically savvy. So more often than not, they opt for the inexpensive but attractive cookie cutter site and wonder why their web presense doesn’t work a few months latter.

    The sad truth is to get higher rankings, you have to either have unique content (which requires a time investment in your blog), unique technology (which requires money and/or making friends with software engineers), or just a lot of money to spend on advertising. The first two are obviously the most effective long term cost effective solutions since they pay lasting dividends on driving traffic, but nobody wants to hear that, so I suspect they just buy Google adwords or call HouseValues (and hope for the best).

    I can’t really blame the template site vendors because my limited experience seems to be that many agents don’t recognize the added value a custom site could provide for them (and are unwilling to pay for it).

    PS – I like your site. If want to team up for an MLS search on your site, let me know… πŸ™‚

  16. Just a year ago I was quite confident in what I was doing. Today, we have all sorts of sites, Realtors, and services online plus search engines being too jumpy… I was generating anywhere from 800 to 1100 leads a month with one real estate site during the season (btw template based, canned with all the positives and negatives) Now the game became more interesting and more complicated. There are three main points: 1. Get traffic; 2. Capture the leads; 3. Convert leads into sales. Each of this points is very important and if failed anywhere in the middle – you loose money. The thing is that our audience is not any more savvy then the agents, people that providing this services (at least a big part of them). So creating tools that can not be used from either end doesn’t make much sense. I have people walking into my office and asking business names, phone numbers, locations, directions etc. etc. etc. – what am I – yellow pages? No, I’m just a little more modern guy and it might take me 12.5 seconds to find the answer. I just know the tools or where to find them and how to use them. But a lot of people that “provide services” have no clue (Robbie mentioned GPS :)) The point is that people are not that techie and nowdays they have to be. There are so many things that agents are not taking advantage of.

    About two years ago when I started getting good amount of traffic I was distributing leads by hand and 13 people out of 24 wouldn’t take the leads. They would argue with me telling that the “internet leads don’t work”, there are “kids playing online” and who am I to tell them it’s different when I just learned how to speak English πŸ™‚ A year later those 13 cut down only to only a couple, we opened 3 additional satellite offices and currently employing about 90 agents. It is really fun to watch the new agents starting from nothing – they are thankful for all the leads they get and a lot of them do much better with the Internet leads then the old-school agents. Younger agents are more technology-directed – otherwise they can’t compete with the others.

    I agree with Robbie that HouseValues’ business model is pretty good – they get their money on the second point (I mentioned above) – they don’t need to sell them anything – they sell leads to Realtors that can not compete online. And it is cheaper to buy leads instead of PPC. The same with HomeGain, ReltyTrack and others… I’m afraid that this is the reality that we have to face – Realtors will be buying those leads and crappy template sites more and more. Why? Robbie said why – they are too far behind. You have to co-operate with your competition to survive.

    As for custom web sites and long term investment into organic rankings – I think single agents won’t be able to afford it anymore. It is already very expensive and with the competition getting tougher it will even be more expensive. Times of SEOs are pretty much gone. It is more about Online Marketing and Public Relations – SEO is a small department in it. Only larger companies will be able to afford full blown marketing for their sites. I think it makes sense to team up into corporations, get your marketing straight and, please, work with your agents – train them all the time how to work the leads, how to use the technologies available to them etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I feel like shooting someone when hear “what is our web site?”

    Sometimes I feel like talking… did I made any points? ..yeh I get lost in my thougts, so I better get back to my Intranet coding.

  17. LOL, MAX. You made a lot of points. Now where’s the part about representing people well, instead of tossing them around in the air at agents in your office collecting referral fees. A clue. If you become a “student of the market” and become very, very good at what you do, which is represent people NOT sell houses, you will have clients instead of “leads”.

    I agree that younger people and new in the industry people have it tough. But spend more time knowing the business and less time generating “leads”. I tell my new agents all the time. Leads are easy to get if that is what you are all about. Just go stand naked in the street with a big tent sign on your body saying “I sell houses”. You will get leads (if you are cute LOL).

    This is not a business of leads and those who have a passion for what they really do, which is not technology, will be successful.

  18. So, your point is to be like old-school agents – know what people want and how to get it for them – if you make people happy, you’ll get referrals – by the time you’re 65 you might be able to make living just off the referrals πŸ™‚ A lot of things have changed since MLS books and MS-DOS – consumer wants the best, the most advanced technology even if they don’t have a clue what it is and even if they don’t really need it. I understand that having passion for your job, knowledge and experience is all very good, but that is the conversion part. No leads – nothing to convert, and when you start from nothing, how you get experience without the leads – you have to stay naked outside or knock on the doors – not all people can do that πŸ™‚ I understand what you’re saying – the quality of service is not in the amount of leads. It also depends what kind of leads – requests for specific information about properties and neighborhoods are very targeted leads and if you can understand people’s needs and provide quality services – then you’re all set.

    Web presence is also representation of your customers. If a customer comes to your web site and does not find it in any way helpful or worth advertising his/her property.. well, it doesn’t score any points for the realtor. You can’t just be a nice guy and know your neighborhood – you have to be on top of what consumer wants including technologies.

    (hey, I made only one misspelling this time – I’m getting better :))

  19. Having moved into Real Estate from an executive corporate background there are a few items common to most agents websites which I think frankly turns a potential client off.

    1. The websites all seem to be egocentric with lots of photographs of “me” “me and my boat” “me and my dog” etc rather than consumer centric. They are more like personal web pages where by the way you can look for listings.

    2. Way too many bells and whistles, flashing invites, free this that and the other.

    3. Forced registration – while some say this is an excellent way to garner customer information – most consumers supply incorrect information just to bypass the registration hurdle.

    4. Too many clicks before getting to the “meat” – looking at properties.

    It may be an outsiders view but for me the simpler the site the better I feel about being on there and the longer I stay. – just a thought.

  20. Two sisters from San Francisco just came in. They want to move here. We talked for quite a while, I walked them around the corner to Emma and her 3 mo. rental option.

    I was surprised when one turned to be as I was leaving them there and hugged me.

    Most of my clients do hug me, but someone to be that grateful just to be able to talk about their thoughts. We may hear from them. We may not. But we gave them our best advice and they appreciated it.

    Website leads are not always the best leads. Meeting people face to face has always been my preference.

    Max, you can stand in an Open House for three hours and connect with all of the buyers you want…for free! That’s if you know how to pick the right open house πŸ™‚

    When technology comes up with a better way to capture SELLER and LISTING leads…I’ll be listening. Buyer leads are a dime a dozen.

  21. Robbie, when you say “I could do better”, what would a decent site in your opinion cost?

    Of course the reason I use who I do, is because she knows all of the rules and mls likes her, so I can keep my nose clean. Best site is not my objective. Having a place where people can find property and that property being displayed in accordance with the rules, was my only objective. The “people” who look at property there, are already my clients. I don’t use the site for lead generation.

  22. I guess was too vague. The technology is not helpful if not used right – you need to have some knowledge and experience to apply it to your needs and get max out of it. Lead generation through the internet expanded our company from 1 to 4 offices in 2 years and we increased our agents staff from 24 to 90. At the same time its the same family business owned by husband, wife and two of their sons. Providing technologies for clients – attracts customers; providing technologies for agents – attracts new employees. That’s just a business model I’m in.

    Ardell, I’m not saying that a computer will substitute live agent and personal touch, but new technologies is a very important factor for Mr/Mrs Realtor to keep competitive edge. Real Estate website is a marketing tool/opportunity – in some cases it can be very successful, in some – ugly. It all depends on the people behind it – realtors, marketers, designers, programmers…etc.

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