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Like most people I’m not a huge fan of estate agents, but like most people I’m also nosey and want to peek inside homes down my street.

This means that even though I am not in the market for a new home I find myself browsing estate agent websites more frequently than I perhaps should.

In general my snooping takes place on my mobile phone after I’ve spotted a ‘for sale’ sign while strolling to the tube, and as I don’t want to believe that I’m the only person in the world guilty of this behaviour I feel that mobile is an area that estate agents should be looking to exploit.

If someone sees a house up for sale or rent and wants to know more then it’s a good idea to allow them to access the details there and then, otherwise they may forget to look up the information when they finally get home or to work.

So, here are a few ways in which estate agents can use mobile to help sell their wares, as well as a look at which businesses are getting it right...

Build a mobile site

It’s a rather obvious point, but if you want house hunters to check property details while they’re out and about then you need a mobile site.

Many estate agents have mobile sites, including Hamptons and Foxtons, but Knight Frank and Savills are still behind the times despite being among the biggest agencies in the country.

                      

Have a prominent search function

In London Foxtons is one of the most visible agencies, however its mobile homepage is quite disappointing. A large, yellow call to action (CTA) at the top of the homepage shows you what is most important to their business, even though mobile users would probably prefer to be presented with a decent search tool.

The search function is lower down the homepage and could easily be improved by making the text fields and buttons larger – just look at those tiny radio buttons for choosing between buying or renting a property...

                      

In comparison, Hamptons’ homepage couldn’t be simpler. Whereabouts are you looking and are you buying or renting?

This makes it incredibly easy to find what you’re looking for, with necessary filters applied on the results page.

               

Simple search results

Search results should ideally include at least one image of the property, the price, location and number of bedrooms.

Foxtons ticks all these boxes, but I feel the number of bedrooms should be given more prominence as at the moment it falls below the mortgage calculator.

Strutt and Parker packs in a lot of information about the properties, though the colour scheme is awful.

                      

Hamptons probably has one of the best results pages as it’s simple and uncluttered, while Douglas and Gordon also has a clean results page, complete with the square footage of each property and a handy click-to-call link.

                      

Simple yet detailed property pages

Property pages appear to be a major challenge for estate agents as none of them is particularly user-friendly.

They tend to have far too much text, fiddly buttons, or tiny images. Foxtons probably has the best overall design, offering a concise description, bullet points of the key features, good sized images and plenty of other information.

The one minor issue is the lack of a click-to-call button to make it easy to arrange a viewing.

                      

In comparison, Marsh & Parsons offers decent images and a good-sized floor plan but the text is far too small.

                      

Make it easy to arrange a viewing

Ultimately agents don’t just want people checking property details online, they also want the visit to result in a property viewing with one of their agents. This means making it as simple as possible to get in touch with the agency.

Foxtons presents nice big ‘Arrange to view this property’ CTAs in its search results but if you click on it you are asked to login, which is a sure-fire way of repelling potential buyers.

It does also give the option of calling the office, but where’s the click-to-call button? The process could be made far simpler.

For example, Marsh & Parsons puts a big ‘Call us’ CTA on its property pages.

                      

Text for details

Marsh & Parsons has a text number on its property boards that allows you to receive local property details by text message.

If you text ‘Marsh’ to 84840 the agency then sends you a hyperlink to a webpage that details all the properties available for sale or rent in your local area.

It’s a really neat feature and delivers useful information quickly and without forcing people to speak to an agent or register their details.

                      

QR codes

QR codes are almost as much-maligned as estate agents themselves, yet I feel that the property industry could really stand to benefit from using the pixelated little squares.

For example, they could be placed on ‘for sale’ signs to allow people to instantly access the property details.

I’ve yet to see anyone implement this technology, however London agency Currell has QR codes in its shop windows next to each property advert.

This means people can easily access property details while browsing the window display and without having to enter the agency.

Currell also avoids the cardinal sin of linking to a desktop site, but instead links directly to a mobile optimised property page.               

The pages themselves could do with a bit of tweaking to make them easier to read and navigate, but on the plus side Currell does include a huge number of excellent images for each property.

                      

Put a phone number on ‘for sale’ signs

Pretty much all estate agents do this already as standard, but it’s still worth flagging up as it means that house hunters can quickly contact the agency for more details.

The problem is that often agents aren’t willing to give out details until they’ve registered the buyer’s personal details, which then means they’re opening themselves up to a barrage of spam calls and emails.

And obviously we snoops who have no intention of buying a home don’t want to reveal ourselves by actually speaking to an agent...

David Moth

Published 15 July, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1674 more posts from this author

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Curchods Estate Agents

Great article, thanks for posting, there are definitely some great features you've highlighted in your article. We've done a pretty thorough job of creating our mobile site www.m.curchods.com and would welcome your comments if you think there is anywhere it could be improved.
Love the Gallery on the Currell mobile site.

almost 3 years ago

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Curchods Estate Agents

See how it compares to our full website http://www.curchods.com

almost 3 years ago

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Strutt & Parker

Really useful article. We run QR codes and NFC chips on our smartboards, window cards and advertising, all of which take users to our mobile website. Scans of QR codes/NFC are low among our audience at the moment, but we expect this to develop over time.

almost 3 years ago

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Homeflow

David - thanks for a thoughtful article.

A few observations...

(1) Foxtons have it right in one regard - in that new instructions for houses to sell are the life blood of their business - so they focus on that use case throughout all of their internet activity. However, a legitimate question is whether a mobile user will have the same balance of use cases - users of a mobile site are more likely to be searching, or having a nose around as you suggest in your opening paragraph, and a user who is seriously considering selling their house, is disproportionately more likely to wait until on a desktop / tablet environment as it's not a here-and-now need. All that said, it's very hard to argue against Foxtons results, they're fabulously profitable and growing like a train - and their fantastic approach on the internet generally is very much part of that concert.

(2) One of the difficulties a business like Knight Frank of Savills have, is that they are far larger, far more comprehensive businesses than the majority of agencies in the UK, including even Foxtons. They have international businesses, they have commercial arms, auction houses, etc. So building a mobile site becomes disproportionately more complex given their position. One option for agents in this position, is to break off just the UK residential users, and address that need on a mobile nicely - ie chunk the problem up and build mini applications for each area.

(3) The next question is one of broad approach. Do you build a "Responsive site" that adapts the HTML of the main pages down to mobile optimised versions? Or do you build a completely separate dedicated web application focused just on being optimised for the mobile environment? There are pros and cons to both approaches...

Responsive keeps it all on one set of URLs and totally solves redirection between the two environments, but is a nightmare to debug and the base page code gets VERY heavy if building in responsive code that has to stretch across all break points of desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile. Beware going this, otherwise very attractive, route without a big budget and plenty debug time.

A dedicated mobile application can run faster, and lighter, and, if well built, can download the whole app in a single page load giving it many of the advantages of a native phone app, but runs on a separate URL structure, so you have to work harder at redirection between the two sites. It's also easy to tack onto an existing perfectly good desktop site.

Our own advice to agents is that unless you have a BIG budget, you get better results from a dedicated app, focused on being best in class, with good redirection. Save your budget for great lightweight responsive design between various larger formats - rather than stretching too thin and trying to respond well across all environments which is a stretch too far unless part of a very big project. (To be clear, we can build either way, so this is not a biased view).

(4) One area that I thought you missed on your article was a test of redirection between desktop and mobile URLs. By far and away the biggest entry point into a mobile site is EMAIL (not nosing around whilst out and about). 43% of email is now done on phones, and agents are constantly emailing out new property alerts. Indeed househunting couples are also always emailing their other half with URLs of interesting properties. If hubby gets sent the link from his wife, and reads it on his mobile, and/or digs deeper and finds a house on the mobile site and send that mobile URL back to his wife who then reads that mobile URL on a desktop computer, you need to be absolutely sure that the user is REDIRECTED intelligently to the correct property in both cases. It's astonishing how 90%+ plus of the agent mobile sites out there completely fail on this test, and bounce the user back to the homepage of the other environment (at best).

(5) QR codes are rightly maligned in our view. Joe Public simply doesn't have the habit of using them AT ALL - and this habit is receeding not growing. Wherever we have seen them in use, they garner next to zero traffic, and just make agents boards / ads look ugly. Almost to a man, joe public, either doesn't have a QR reader or, where they do, they don't know how to find and use it on their phone. So, in our view, agents can safely ignore QR codes - they don't do any harm, but they don't get any usage either. Geo location on mobile phones (a big and actually useful feature) long since killed any hope of the QR code mattering in this world. A nice big button for "Show me the nearest property" sorts the use case of driving past a For Sale board, and good usable basic search solves the use case for having them in your print ads.

We've got about 200 agents' with mobile sites in circulation, and would love to hear from any agencies thinking about doing a high quality approach on a mobile with a high quality. Fascinating to note Curchods posting above (that was not co-ordinated) though we did build their site - so that would be a good example to look at as a comparison.

www.homeflow.co.uk

almost 3 years ago

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Richard Hamer

Really frustrating that Zoopla's mobile site is dreadful, certainly on my HTC One X. Images don't load, but if you click back they then appear. I've had to go to Right Move instead.

almost 3 years ago

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Jonathan

Curchods commenter...

That really is rather good. Much better, faster and simpler than the Foxtons site. Only Hamptons comes close. Well done to you.

Homeflow commenter...

With bigger companies comes bigger resource and less excuse for a poor mobile showing. It's 2013 and mobile really should be well catered for. Agreed on QR codes. The texting idea mentioned in the article is similarly gimmicky IMHO.

almost 3 years ago

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Kate Chapman

A great example of innovation in this sector is hatched.co.uk - an online estate agent who don't have a costly high street presence, or use traditional print media advertising. They pass the savings on to their customers. I've used them and it's an incredibly low-cost and effective way to buy/sell you property

almost 3 years ago

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julian bye

Your right when it comes to mobile websites and online presence its hard these day to get the balance between exposure and profit especially when you have companies like right move digging deep into your profits most estate agents will not bother with a website when they can fall back on right move for their exposure but on the other hand people still look local on search engines for properties that are for sale just need to keep your nose to the grind stone and look for new cheaper avenues that will get you the same results as the big boys in the game of property search.

almost 3 years ago

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Simon, Prestige Print

QR codes had a brief moment of popularity with our estate agent clients marketing a few years ago. It was something new to the industry and some agents I think felt by using them might help show potential clients how they had their finger on the pulse and differentiate them from other agents. Unfortunately QR Codes are rather ugly and did not take long before this fad to pass. But we did sell a few leaflet designs with a focus on the QR code http://prestigeprint.biz/design-template.php?ref=2351

over 2 years ago

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Nina Dubravec, Digital Marketing Executive at Strutt & Parker

I read the article with particular interest because we were in the process of building a new mobile site (now launched at m.struttandparker.com, if you're interested - sorry, David, the colour palette is still the same!)

We had to make our mobile site relevant for all areas of our business - residential, commercial, rural etc - which, as mentioned in an earlier comment, does add complexity, but we went for a tiled interface and iconography to help with navigation.

Totally agree that links from QR codes and emails where a mobile is detected should go to mobile-friendly pages. That's why we prioritised a mobile website over an app (and also so that it could be accessed by more smartphone users).

over 2 years ago

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