Why Maps Matter for Real Estate
If we are to believe Greg Robertson, (Another nail in the coffin for map search?), the coffin is being hammered shut on real estate map search as I type because one of our competitors pulled their map prototype after a week or two in the wild.
But Greg is blurring product type with product execution and product audience.
When a company fails to successfully execute a feature, product or business, it does not mean that feature is dead. Apple, for instance, is a company that seems to exclusively create market segments where others failed so many times that the segment was considered dead (remember these?). Weebly grew like a weed at the exact same time that Yahoo decided Geocities was a dead business. Coupon sites have existed since the dawn of the internet, but Groupon got the formula just right. Close to my heart, Home Advisor’s failure wasn’t an indicator that people didn’t want to use the internet to find homes online, it just meant they went about it the wrong way.
Map search is alive and well in real estate: Estately’s surging user base is just one indicator of its health (more on that sometime soon). Traffic growth aside, the root of many of our feature requests is asking us to tweak our map interface: our customers don’t want us to run from maps; they want our maps to work harder for them.
While maps can be tricky for novices, they provide a world of information that merely selecting “90210” from a drop down and looking at a list of results doesn’t provide. Our users often tell us that they don’t care about arbitrary zip code boundaries or neighborhood boundaries – they want to see the homes for sale on a map and pick which ones they are interested in for themselves (they do care about school boundaries though). When users do care about zip code or city boundaries, they still want to see if homes are on major streets or near parks before they decide to learn more about them.
Maps are not the logical search medium for most other industries. Hotels need to be in the area, but factors like major vs. minor street, corner vs. middle of the street and proximity to parks and amenities aren’t nearly as important for hotel seekers. Restaurants are in the same category – the price is primarily for the food and sometimes the view, and eating a block from the freeway isn’t as scary as living there. But in real estate, a marker on a map tells you more about a house or condo than a thousand words could.
So why do most of our competitors stick to list search – and even go so far as to say that their internal testing shows that list search is better for users?
- Map search is extremely hard to get right. Getting map search right is like cooking a chicken – half baked isn’t half as good, it just makes you sick. Map search unfortunately defies a lot of the incremental, iterative Lean Startup advice; there is no incremental shift from list search to map search that is useful or an improvement until you have fully made the leap.
- Another problem with map search is that it’s difficult to figure out if you got it right. A lot of traditional usability studies involve testing with people off the street or people who are in your target audience (i.e., thinking of buying a home). Map search is typically best for consumers who are dedicated to buying a home or being a real estate junkie; it annoys dilettantes.
- Lastly, maps just aren’t conducive to wall-to-wall ads. Our competitors attempt to help real estate agents and others wiggle into people’s psyches while they’re trying to find a home they want. Our business on the other hand is driven by helping people find and buy homes online.
We believe maps-done-right are a core part of what has helped Estately grow and prosper. We are glad that they’re hard to get right and we are very excited about the improvements we have in the pipeline. The fact that our competition is dropping out of the game – along with consistent growth we’re seeing in new and return traffic – just helps confirm that our hard work is paying off.