Where Real Estate Gets Its Dirt

Another nail in the coffin for map search?

I’ve been super busy and haven’t had time to post but thought I would jot down a quick note about Zillow’s decision to switch back to it’s list view from their recent map centric search screen (gusty move and shows that Zillow is not afraid to push the limits but still have the confidence to listen to its customers)

It seems to be a growing trend.  Back in November Seth Siegler (cofounder of Simplistate, an eco-friendly, virtual real estate brokerage) wrote a post on TFOREM titled “Why Map Search Is Dead”.  He had some good points of why map based search is a terrible idea.

Redfin‘s approach is most likely the best I’ve seen, but I’ve never been a big fan on map search UI/UX.

Recently Real Living launched a new national web site and the decision was to also forego the default map screen screen and go right to the list view.

Add to that Google‘s recent decsion to drop real estate listings from Google Maps, and I quote “In part due to low usage,”.

Me thinks me spots a trend.

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  2. You’re right Greg. Finally people are realizing that the user interface of mapping is seriously confusing creating a frustrating experience for the majority of users. This realization is a long time coming.

  3. This “backlash” belies the incredible popularity of websites like Estately and Redfin and is testament to how hard it is to get map search right – not that it’s failed.

    It’s akin to saying that no one wanted tablets in 2007 when every tablet attempt had failed – they, like most map searches, were an ugly compromise of the worst of both worlds.

    Lastly, consumers who are actively and seriously searching for a home love map searches. Most of Zillow’s userbase does not fall into that camp – they’re looking for their neighbor’s home value or to see what Zillow thinks their home is worth.

  4. More than anything, this redesign process has taught me the value of social media! When looking at the analytics of the site, we found that more people were using the map portion of the page. So why not accentuate what people seem to be using the most? Also, when you look at the popularity of our ipad app, which is heavily map-based, it seemed to be the thing to do.

    I guess people were using the map and the list in conjunction with each other? But the list was sorely missed, that was immediate obvious from the blog comments and other social feedback we received.

    So we switched the list view back today.

    I think the most powerful part of the story here is the instant feedback that we got. On many presentations about social media I hear ‘listening’ is the more important part of a social media plan (and then doing something about would be the next step). It the change would have been made in a vacuum, we would have never known how our users felt, and we could have lost users. Instead they get to see that we not only heard them, but acted fast on their feedback.

  5. @Galen I think it’s most likely a matter of personal choice. I prefer to START with a list view and then go in to a map view later. That being said the Estately UI is just gorgeous! Almost good enough for me to re-consider my whole map vs. list premise. It’s a perfect blend of both a list view a nice big map. Well done!

  6. Galen – I like that tablet example! I think Google’s departure had less to do with the map failing, and more to do with the fact that just putting dots on a map of real estate listings isn’t enough.

    To your last point, we had 15.7 million people visit the site last month. Based on the lead volume and clicks out to agents’ websites we saw – I can guarantee you that there are a lot of buyers on the site too! 🙂

  7. @Greg – I wouldn’t say maps are in a coffin. Let’s not overstate, even though it makes for cool headline.

    I’m totally agreeing with you in your preference to “START with a list view and then go in to a map view later”. Showing a map as part of the search interface by default is rarely needed – but maps are really useful when you want to power search for that home right by the water, at a specific place on a golf course, near a landmark or some other specific location. I usually give up on the pure list view eventually and end up on a map view, clicking on the listing icons.

  8. Map search looks impressive and is visually appealing, but its just not as functional overall as “good old fashioned list view”. I am very pleased with LPS’ Map Search capabilities, and think that they’re the best in the industry. I very much like having them on realliving.com as a search option, but “list view” is simply the best from a usability standpoint.

    Why? In part, we’ve become conditioned to it. The earliest online sites – including AOL Dialup – were limited in their graphic capabilities, and had to present “lists” by default. Outside the real estate space, most ecommerce sites use list by default, (a map view is nearly useless for Amazon, Orbitz, ebay, etc.). For these and other reasons, we’ve all become accustomed to “sort” by price, size, function and etc, even when Mapping is relevant, as in Real Estate. Only list view can easily support that.

    A map based search that could somehow incorporate that sortability – perhaps by icon color/size – would be the best of both worlds, but very hard to make fully usable.

  9. I have to agree with Galen that this is about designing a great experience, and not “the map”.

    Estately has done a great job of mastering the UX of map-based search, and I can’t think of another (besides Redfin) that comes close. Clearly map search isn’t dead, if you can do it well.

    So, the question becomes (given this is “Vendor Alley”), if you are broker looking to replicate that experience, can you do it? Who do you partner with? Refin doesn’t license their technology and Estatley only does on a limited bases.

    Given the choice, brokers are better off with a list-based search that “just works” vs. a poorly executed map experience that frustrates your clients.

  10. Sorry to chime in late. One thing that can be said of MapSearch is that it drives more registrations for saved searches. According to research done by WAV Group by comparing broker sites across a variety of vendor platforms, saved searches increase 20% with map search over form based search – that is a big bump in lead generation.

    I appreciate everyone’s opinion of mapping being cumbersome, but I think that the majority of consumers understand how to use map platforms like MapQuest, Bing, and Google Maps. But the devil is in the details – some developers do a great job with mapping (Corelogic, LPS, Wolfnet), others do not.

  11. I’m in if you ever hold a course “Writing Headlines that POP!” If the RE thing doesn’t work out, consider the local major daily.

    I disagree with both the thesis and your supporting argument. You and the reference conflate the idea with the delivery as mentioned by the other commenters. Read some of the comments in TFOREM. Successful management of information overload is possible as demonstrated by some of those sites and other web sites using map search unrelated to Real Estate.

    I agree that the search process, map or otherwise, can be better. I agree that listening to the user is really important. If we take the user out of their comfort zone, we better deliver a superior experience. If it is only as good or worse, then we better let them get back into their comfort zone.

    Bad map search, bad tablets, bad MP3 players (yes, iPods were not the first MP3 players) and bad portable computers (Osborne? TRS-80 Model 100?) doesn’t preclude a broad market for each when the market, product and technology are properly delivered.

    Several usable examples have been provided of map search in the comments. The clients over the next 10 years have rising expectations of what is possible and, frankly, green screen interfaces are not it. I know you recognize this and that you don’t think that the client base is you, so why are we trying to shoe-horn these clients into the state-of-the-art from 20 years ago? Real Estate search has not progressed materially over the last 30 years when around us the art of facilitating search has grown substantially.

    I’m going to have to say that your thesis is not proven.

  12. @Paul Great points. Sounds like there is great opportunity here. After checking out a few sites I see pieces of what might be some of the elements of this grail quest. You gotta hand it to Zillow for being great innovators. Personally I think Estately has the best UI/UX for a map based search, Redfin is a close second, but when you get down to the property level nothing beats Real Living’s (LPS’ Platform) data points (roof top geo-coding/plot lines/etc).

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  15. I think that saying “map search is dead” makes for a good headline, but it’s really not a fair assessment of the state of real estate search. Mapping is an important part of real estate search, and I think the future is not eliminating mapping options, but integrating them so that consumers can choose to view lists & maps and freely go back and forth at their convenience.

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