Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

How to skin a cat – Remax.com and Roost.com

I’m not a professional reviewer but due to my past gig and since launching Dwellicious, a social bookmarking site that works with all the major real estate search portals, I’ve become somewhat of a “connoisseur” of these types of websites.

Both RE/MAX and Roost have basically the same model/approach to displaying listings on their websites. RE/MAX International is a huge real estate franchise (not a broker), and therefore runs remax.com as a “network of broker IDX websites”, while Roost.com runs “a real estate search site that features multiple listing service-based property listings information shared through partner brokers.”

The big news is that they both have launched new site designs. It’s very interesting to see how each company approaches the way in which they display the listing content.

It’s as if you put a team of creative and talented people in one room with a certain task and another team of creative and talented people in another room with the same task. Now, months later, they come out of each of their respective rooms and gave you a demo of how they solved the problem. In this case, the problem was to create a new user interface to display broker IDX sites connecting thru a “wrapper” site.

As many of you know, I was part of the team that helped launch the first version of remax.com’s network of broker IDX sites. It was one of the best times I have had in my career. We were doing something so new and innovative and really had a national stage. So, it’s great to see what new things the eNeighborhoods and RE/MAX (and their design partner) teams have added.

Also I’m just going to focus on 3 parts

* Home Page
* Search Results Page
* Detailed Property Page

With that said, here are my quick thoughts about each site:

Home Page

remax homepage

Remax.com

The overall design is more a conservative approach. It has a much lighter feel (lots of white space, good!) than the darker blue that covered the previous site. The addition of the one line search field on top is great, it helps balance all the self promotion (“Top Ten…”, “Become A…”, “Find A…”) going on below. I like the addition of the video upfront, but I am confused by the “Popular Searched Real Estate Markets”, it seems like they are trying too hard here.

roost homepage

Roost.com
Very inviting. Although the layout might be better for SEO considerations, I think there is a lot going on here. But the design does scream Web 2.0. The new logo is reminds me too much of Twitter. The sliders are an interesting addition, and I did find them useful. Roost seems to be fighting for credibility. For example it displays lots of other company logo’s (“Featured In”) and numbers showing you the amount of listings available. I guess this is understandable, but it is something remax.com doesn’t have to worry about.

Search results page

I just typed in a zip code of “92648” at a price range of 750K to 1.2M. This was much easier to do on Roost due to the sliders. Although, when entering in the price range on remax.com it automatically gave me the comma’s (“,”), so I didn’t have to count the zeros like I would on a lot of other real estate sites.

The search results came up quicker in Roost, but remax.com brought up more listings (443 vs 370). On my system, remax.com showed me 5 listings per page (you can change this).

remax.com's search results page
remax.com's search results page

On the search results page remax.com does a simple sort by “lower to higher”, while Roost defaults at “Recently added”; both can be changed.

On remax.com I was only able to view 2 listings without having to scroll down for more, whereas Roost gave me 12. This, I believe, is a matter of personal preference, whether you want more listings viewable (meaning smaller photos) or larger photos and text.

Roost's search results page
Roost's search results page

Both pages had the listings maps. I didn’t like they way Roost implemented the map. Although it was larger than the map on remax.com I tend to use the scroll button on my mouse a lot which caused a problem. The map was “active” on the right hand side of the screen where I usually find the scroll bar. With my pointer on the map it zoomed in and out, not scrolling down the page as I expected.

Not filling the screen with listings gave remax.com more space to devote to lead capture forms and information about “Home Pricing Trends” and search fields. Again, I don’t know whether this trade off of less listing viewable per screen is worth it, hopefully thery are testing. If they are not seeing a lot of usage on these additional elements I would switch to more listings per page.

Detailed Listing Page

I selected 509 20th St, Huntington Beach, CA, listed at $1,099,000

This is can be broken up in to what’s above the fold and what’s below the fold.

Above the fold:

remax.com's property detail page
remax.com's property detail page
roost's detailed property page
roost's detailed property page

First off, the remax.com page was taking a lot longer to load. Even when most of the images were displayed, I could still see my browser cranking away. Roost was nice and snappy.

remax.com -Is it a one story?
remax.com -Is it a one story?
roost -Or is it a two story?
roost -Or is it a two story?

The photo viewer on remax.com when you first came to the detailed listing page didn’t allow for images to be displayed, in portrait mode; Roost did. To be fair, you could see them in the correct mode once you clicked on the link “View All Photos” (also this might be a browser thing, I’m using FF on a Mac). But, first impressions where pretty dramatic.

I did like that remax had the listing photos start a slide show (once the page loaded!). Roost’s approach was to show me all the photos and let me jump to the image I wanted.

Remax.com chose to display the photos on the right hand side of the screen. Roost has them on the left. I went and checked some other sites, and they are all different. Realtor.com shows 4 big photos in a square starting from the left hand side. Trulia.com has them sort of in the middle. I guess everyone wants to be different.

I think that remax.com’s use of white space made the listing detail page much easier to read than Roost. As I’ve said, the approach to displaying photos is, to me, a matter of personal preference.

Below the fold:

Both sites have a lot going on here. Roost has a Google Street view imbedded and viewable on the map (nice). With remax.com, you must click to see the street view but they also have a “Balloon View” which gives you another interesting view of the property not offered by Google. Also, when you click on “Expand Map” you get an entirely new listing detail screen. I really liked this view and would argue that it would make a better default view of the detailed listing page.

Roost gives you a Zestimate, provided by Zillow, recent homes sales, and a mortgage calculator.

Remax.com gives you some quick links to neighborhood and school information (helpful), and recent home sales, but no Zestimate. Remax.com does give a list of “Similar Properties For Sale” which I think is a great feature.

Summary

I purposely didn’t go into any IDX issues or the way each site brands it’s brokers/franchisors and partners. I’m sure others can split hairs about how each site is properly displaying real estate listings.

I was impressed with how RE/MAX International’s new design stood up to Roost and other sites. Roost is an exciting and innovative Web 2.0 company and really leading in a lot of different areas. For a big corporation like RE/MAX International to create a compelling user experience is a huge accomplishment!

Of course, the main value proposition is how well these new site designs increase lead generation.

One thing is for sure: both teams have a great group of dedicated, creative, and talented people working hard to compete in a highly competitive arena!

UPDATE:
Joel at FOREM also reviewed Roost. His review is a good read that really focuses on the before and after of Roost’s changes.

  1. Greg,

    Thanks for the review. We appreciate your feedback and look under the hood. One point that I wanted to make about the search results page. I’m not sure if you noticed the “expand the map” function in the upper left corner of the map pane. If you click that, the map becomes the “hero” of the session and the listings shrink to the upper left hand side. Because our site functions much more like an application, we keep everything above the fold in the search results page. This is why the scroll bar is not used. It may take some getting used to but we think it is a much better experience for consumers.

    Thanks again for the review.

    Derek Overbey
    Sr. Director of Marketing & Social Media
    Roost.com

  2. Derek,

    The “expand the map” view reminded me of the way Redfin does it, but a bit cleaner.

    The map control didn’t take long for me to get used to. It’s just that some of these tools you wouldn’t expect on a website. And the lines between “application” and “website” are fading quick.

    My review was pretty narrow, I didn’t come close to talk about all the things your site does, and does extremely well. Congrats to everyone involved!

  3. Roost might be fine in Maberry, but it sure choked in the city. Ran a big general search “Houston,TX” and it spent a couple of minutes pulling down 16,000 records. From there the U/I got real sticky and brought the browser to its knees. The sliders didn’t slide and I couldn’t cull the selected set of records. Not sure I see a compelling reason for a consumer to wrestle with the U/I to get a narrowed down set of records that the client side app can handle well.

  4. Thanks for the all the feedback! Great to see an inside/outside point of view! The big push for remax.com right now is to get the site cruisin! We have added so much content to the new design that we need to serve it up faster than ever. Interesting food for thought on perhaps making the expanded map the default view and perhaps having more listings show as the default view. Better yet, we should just let consumers who have a “My RE/MAX” accounts decide their defaults – as you noted, lots of personal preferences out there! Good objective opinions. Thanks.

  5. Thanks for the great review, Greg. My company was the design partner for RE/MAX. That was a thoughtful review and comparison. As you’re aware, the redesign of RE/MAX was a huge undertaking and we’re very proud of the project and are thankful for having such an amazing client in RE/MAX. Marnie and her team had great vision and challenged us to design a best-in-class solution that would hold up against both the nimble Web 2.0 players like Roost as well as the major competitors. We feel (technical issues aside for now) we achieved that and are continuing to refine and improve the site with RE/MAX and technical partner eNeighborhoods. Thanks again for the thoughtful review and comparison.

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