Windermere’s Web Site Strikes Back

I’ve been way too busy at my current day job during the past year to play real estate mash up games at the level Galen has been playing at. However, it appears Windermere has decided to up their game and yesterday they released an improved & simplified property search feature on their web site.

On the plus side, I like the improved site’s ability to see multiple photos of listings alongside the Virtual Earth map-based interface. It addresses one my persistent complaints that most map-based real estate search sites tend to share. I also like how they embraced what appears to be a trend of starting a property search with a textbox of a city name (ala Redfin & Estately) instead of a byzantine array of list boxes & check boxes.

On the minus side, the site only showed me properties when my search returns between 1 and 100 matches. I hate limits, especially small ones. I have a big monitor and a pretty fast net connection. My hardware could handle a thousand pushpins on the map if you let it. To channel Jerry Maguire – Show me the listings! I have Windermere’s competitors on the other browser tabs – John L Scott’s limit is 300 (good), Redfin’s limit is 500 (better), and Estately shows me a 100 at time, but w/ no upper limit (I like the no upper limit part). I also missed the wide array of features & data that I’ve come to expect from Redfin or Estately. However, given Windermere’s design priorities for this release were simplicity, rather than power & flexibility; I can’t fault them too much for accomplishing their goals.

In any event, if you write real estate web apps for fun and/or profit, you owe it to yourself to read the Windermere Tech Blog. If you merely use real estate web apps, you should check out the new

72 thoughts on “Windermere’s Web Site Strikes Back

  1. Color me unimpressed. Searching for Bellevue, WA doesn’t get you all the listings with Bellevue addresses. It gives you the hits within their pre-defined zoom level for Bellevue, even if you restrict the price range to something relatively narrow and only get a few hits. You have to alter the zoom and/or move around to change that, and it’s slow!

    Also bedroom searches that are 1+, 2+, etc? That’s fine if you’re looking for a 4 bedroom, but if you’re looking for a 1 or 2 bedroom, it’s a PITA.

    On the plus side, they do distinguish between 1.5 and 1.75 baths.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving, Robbie!

    I take exception to your attributing “Show Me the Money” to Jerry Maquire though 😉 It clearly should be attributed to Cuba Gooding, Jr who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rod Tidwell. Yes, he did finally get Jerry to say it, but to say it RIGHT, you have to “channel” Rod Tidwell, not Jerry Maguire.

    The visual of your chanelling Cuba Gooding, Jr in that clip is cracking me up.

    As to searching for property, 90% of the time I am using the “polygon tool” in the mls to define the search area when looking for property, vs calculating stats. It gives me a maximum of 10 line segments, which is more than enough to define “south of 85th” or “East of Avondale” or “no closer than 5 blocks from the freeway”or to outline a “school search” area.

    I would like to see a public site that makes searching for property by consumers as advanced as the agent search tools. Maybe there is one that operates with this type of precision, but I haven’t seen it. If we can do it, why can’t that be easily conveyed to the public sites?

    The only time I search by City or Zip Code is when I’m doing stats. When I’m looking for property for clients, or doing a CMA, I am always using one of the draw a circle or box or polygon mapping tools.

  3. I too use the polygon search more than anything, although if there’s nothing of interest within a radius circle to exclude, I’ll use a simple radius.

    But what we can do as agents goes far beyond that when comparing public sites to the NWMLS. It does raise a good question as to why most the public sites are so pathetic. I wonder if there’s listing data they simply don’t have access to as part of the feed? That wouldn’t explain things like only being able to search for 2+ bedrooms I mentioned, or the area thing Ardell mentioned, but other items good be.

  4. Personally I think the policy of not having a fabulous public site via the mls public site is a mistake. True, it would compete with the broker sites, but it would elevate the reputation of the industry generally.

  5. A little self promotion here:

    Ardell: Estately can do simple radius, but we don’t let you draw your own polygons.

    Kary: the NWMLS gives us tons of data. We have ranges for bedrooms (and a lot of other stuff) on Estately and you can search for anything (remarks, amenities – anything) using our keyword search.

  6. Galen,

    I’m surprised there is not a “rule” requiring the agents to show “subject to lienholder approval” or “short sale” in the public remarks section. Many only show in the commission field and/or the agent remarks field. Makes it difficult for the public to target some of the bargain properties that may sell for significantly less than the asking prices.

  7. The searching mechanism is a bit arduous, but I like the slideshow and the pertinent details on the right column. I also like the Open House Icon, though I would like to see all the open houses available in a particular area, regardless of company. I believe the NWMLS is working on that…

    I also made the mistake of clicking on the privacy statement, which completely nullified the painstaking search I had just completed. It was a bit too easy to erase all that had work.

    Overall, much improved, and I have to say I like it, but I much prefer the MLS.

  8. Ardell, by making it a rule that a property is disclosed as a short sale would adversely affect the property and the value of the property, not to mention the privacy of the person residing there.

  9. I notice they aren’t excluding new listings like some of the traditional brokerages used to. Think it’s fair to say that Redfin et. al. has forced other brokerages to increase the quality of information on their searches?

  10. I just did a Federal Way search and 73 properties show as “short sale” in the agent remarks, while only 24 of those showing in the public remarks. 31 show up searching “bank” in the agent remarks, with only 10 of those showing up in the public remarks.

    Unfortunately there is no way to search the commission remarks field, so the only way to look for short sales in a given area is to scan the full agent detail for “subject to lienholder approval” in the commission remarks, in addition to the agent remarks field.

    I’m trying to get a MPPSF for distressed property vs a MPPSF for properties that are not bank owned or short sales. I have to work in smaller segments than “King County” and smaller timeframes in order to scan all properties.

    Yesterday when I saw San Diego down 30% YOY with 50% short sales and foreclosures in that mix, I wanted to separate our market into “pressured sales” including Estate Sales and vacant relocation properties, from what one might call “normal” sales. It’s a lot of work that would be easier if the public remarks contained all info. If the system alerts the buyer’s agent, then it should also alert buyers direct in the public fields.

  11. Jon,

    I totally agree, BUT it IS a requirement that we alert agents for commission reasons who are agents for the buyer…so why not buyers? If it weren’t a requirement that we alert all agents, I would totally agree with you. But since all agents (here in WA) work for “the buyer” except the ONE listing agent, it’s obvious that the intent is to alert the agent for the buyer…and yet not the buyer himself.

  12. Cautious Buyer: Yes, I think Redfin has helped with the dissemination of information, but to the degree you are referring to, I doubt it. Redfin still provides more data than any other website, yet the competition isn’t trying keep up with them… They have a nitch, and unfortunately, I think that nitch creates a false sense of security in a buyers mind that they are making educated choices before consulting with a professional that is out in the field on a daily basis.

  13. “…though I would like to see all the open houses available in a particular area, regardless of company. I believe the NWMLS is working on that…”

    It is my understanding that the mls already provides that. It is by Company Policy that some agents cannot enter Public Open House data except to their company site. That mls field is “invisible” to agents of some companies. That is a recent change, I expect to force consumers to find the open houses via their site vs. a competitor’s site.

  14. Ardell,

    I completely see your point. I guess my only logic is that it hurts a buyer trying to sell more than it helps them IF they live in the home. I think short sales where buyers have moved out, or REO’s should have the full ability to disclose that, but I worry that a consumers protection is somewhat violated with the disclosure.

    We have to notate it to agents due to the variable commission structure, which is illegal, except in the case of short sales.

  15. The required disclosure to agents is rather silly, IMHO. I can’t imagine writing up an offer on a piece of property without looking at Realist and perhaps the King County Recorder’s website if necessary. An agent should know when it’s necessary to inquire as to the possibility of a short sale (absent a mistake by Realist in noting an encumbrance).

    That fits a bit with my comment 16, because owners with a lot of equity are more likely to drop their price. But also just because it’s not listed as a short sale doesn’t mean it won’t be if you offer even $1,000 less. An agent writing an offer should be able to at least estimate that (although admittedly the estimate won’t be within $1,000.00).

  16. Kary,

    Most people can find price paid in the County Records. I don’t see any reason why the public should see “vacant” as that is a “showing” instruction, and they can easily see that when viewing the property.

    I personally totally agree that NO ONE should know if it is a short sale without the express written direction of the owner to do so. That includes agents for the buyer. There are other ways to handle the commission issue without revealing to the agent for the buyer that the seller is in distress. That takes us back to deficiency issues. If the seller has to pay the deficiency, then the mls should not be revealing their negotiating weakness. It leads agents to think that the sale price is of nonevermind to the seller, and the mls should not do anything against the seller’s best interest.

    I’m just saying either NO ONE should know except the listing agent, or everyone should know, and I lean toward NO ONE should know, without the express direction of the seller to use it as a marketing tool.

  17. Kary,

    There is a difference in negotiating a short sale, bank owned property, relo property, estate sale, owner occupied property and vacant not in financial distress property.

    When the owner can’t rent it as an option or stay living in it, the negotiation is more between other buyers than the buyer and the seller. Lacking another buyer who will pay more, the buyer has the advantage. unless the seller can rent it out or pull it off the market.

    In this market, “vacant” can be a selling feature. There may come a time when bank owned properties are rented out by the banks, but that is rare. That means it has to be sold. Builders will sometimes rent out the property, but rarely a bank.

  18. Regarding 18: From a buyer’s point of view, being able to see vacant is probably more important than short sale when it comes to price concessions, for the reason I mentioned.

    Imagine two decision makers on two different properties.

    On Property A the the house has been vacant for 6 months, and the decision making owner is getting both tired of making two mortgage payments, and fearful that they’ll never find a buyer.

    On Property B the house has been on the market for 6 months, and the decision making banker will bring home the same amount of money over the next six months regardless of whether or not Property B sells.

    Which property do you think you’re going to be able to negotiate a better price on? What if the banker’s information on Property B’s value was 3 months out of date?

  19. Re 19: A seller with a lot of gain would be rather foolish to rent out a property. The government doesn’t just hand out tax free exchanges like candy, and tax rates will more likely go up than down. Also, renting small scale (one unit) is a lot more risky than renting multiple units.

    As to a seller without a great deal of equity, they might find themselves locked into being a landlord for a long time if they wait. We don’t know where the market is headed. Clearing 20-30k might be a lot more attractive than being a landlord long term.

    But each seller is different.

  20. Ardell wrote: “There is a difference in negotiating a short sale, bank owned property, relo property, estate sale, owner occupied property and vacant not in financial distress property.”

    Yep, there is a difference, and the difference is only the last one is likely to be significantly motivated by fear. 😀

  21. Galen,

    Putting “short sale” as a remarks search works well in Estately, except it goes far outside the search area when I put in “Federal Way”. Saw a fabulous old Tudor in Tacoma 🙂 But wonder why it is showing areas not in the designated City Search field of Federal Way.

    Wow! That Tudor is fabulous! Built just after the turn of the Century, over 3,000sf (can’t verify in tax records) of living space and listed at 10% under assessed value as a short sale.

    Have to be generic here as we can’t “advertise” other people’s listings. But that looks like a great house and potentially a great deal. Just go to Estately and put in Tacoma built before 1910 and “short sale”.

  22. We sold a similar house (1904, 3000′) about 5 blocks from there two years ago for about 33% more than that one. But our house had most of the wood inside unpainted. It was a really nice house inside (except for the kitchen, which had a remodel from maybe the 50s.). There are some really nice houses in that area, and Tacoma prices are a lot lower than Seattle.

  23. I just don’t see that convincing some banker as to value is a good way to look for value in this market. The people at banks that make short sale decisions are not personally affected by their decisions. Sellers are. And again, renting is not an option for many vacant properties. We had our vacant house on the market a year ago. Renting wasn’t ever an option due to tax reasons.

    Not every vacant owner will be affected by the fear of not selling and the news reports of last month, but I think you can find enough that are that they are a much better option than dealing with a bank. Short sales are better options for better markets, where there is less inventory.

    Estate sales can also be a good source for value, depending on the situation. I’d have no hesitation at looking at one of those. As to relocation properties, we looked at one a year ago that was grossly overpriced and stayed that way for months. That’s an example of only one, but I don’t usually track overpriced properties. I only remember it because we considered buying it. It was a nice house, but overpriced.

  24. Re: Limiting the number of results

    At Redfin we’ve done extensive testing of both map platforms (Virtual Earth and Google Maps) with respect to the first time load of a large number of pushpins as well as making changes to the pushpins as the user pans the map. Unfortunately performance does degrade significantly over a limit like 500. And while your machine and browser may be capable of handling more consider that 20% of Redfin’s traffic still uses Internet Explorer 6 so we are bound by the least common denominator when designing aspects of our site.

    Regardless, many MLSes have rules with respect to the number of houses you can show at any time. 500 seems to be a common limit so even if we could exceed that number with acceptable performance our agreements with many MLSes would prohibit us from doing so.

    Should we paginate? I feel very strongly that map results should not paginate.

  25. I just checked, and the NWMLS limits agents to searches with 250 results (statistics can be had for larger searches). The only time I hit the 250 limit is when I’ve made a serious mistake with my search criteria.

  26. Kary,

    The stats button (the one I use – there is more than one) kicks out when you get over 10,000 properties. You can get the number of properties, but not the rest of the data. That’s why I was doing under $800,000 and over $800,000 in my Sunday Night Stats, to break down to under 10,000 properties.

  27. Matt, re #32, that doesn’t surprise me. I’d compare it to how most people using word processors don’t use 10% of the features. So I’d say that the users do it not because they “prefer to wade through all the results” but instead because they don’t know any better. It might seem like you’re wasting your time adding filters, but I’m sure there are a lot of users who appreciate it.

  28. Matt,

    Ironically, I feel the exact opposite. I hate having a large area search, only to be shown an empty map saying “we’re sorry there’s too many results to show”. And then I spend the next 3 minutes or so adjusting my map so my search will be under the site’s upper limit. I prefer the approach, if you can’t show me everything, show me something.

    That said, I think Redfin made a good trade off with having a large upper limit of 500 listings and no pagination. My old map search used to always show the 200 listings closest to the map center and Estately has a paginated search. I like both approaches better than the hard upper limit approach because they always show me something. I really dislike small upper limits and no pagination, since with that design, I spend more time adjusting my map control than I do looking at properties.

    That said, I agree you need to have some limiting factor. I just think if the result set has 501 listings, you should display your max number of listings (w/ pagination or a warning) instead of no listings and a warning message.

  29. Robbie,

    That’s how our tax link works. It shows the max with no warning, but as soon as I see the max number, I know the odds of the search equalling the max # is nil.

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