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The Most Useful Website Features, According to Home Buyers

March 23 2016

for sale red mouse 3Is that shiny, new "must have" website feature really something you need? Maybe not.

In their recent Home Buyer and Seller Generational TrendsHome Buyer and Seller Generational Trends survey, NAR asked more than 6,400 recent home buyers which features they most valued on real estate websites during their home search. Not surprisingly, photos topped the list with 87 percent of buyers ranking property images as "very useful." And here's some absolution for all you lapsed bloggers--only 8 percent considered news/articles as important to the search process.

Today, we're taking a closer look at each of the features covered in NAR's survey and offering tips on leveraging them on your own real estate website. The number next to each item below is the percentage of buyers who found the website feature "very useful."

1. Photos (87%) - Good listing photos are the best way to attract and convert buyers online. If you're in the market for a real estate website solution, look for a platform that lets you display big, beautiful high-definition property photos. Tiny, grainy photos aren't likely to win any buyers. If it's not your website but your photography skills that are lacking, try these tips for better exterior and interior shots.

2. Detailed property information (84%) - Once you've lured buyers into a listing detail page with an attractive photo, it's your property description that needs to blow them away next. Florid prose isn't necessary, but a wealth of details is. Much of this data ported in from the MLS, so make your IDX solution is equipped to display as many fields as possible. You can learn more about creating strong listing descriptions here.

3. Interactive maps (45%) - Can visitors to your website search for properties and then view the results on a map? Can they zoom in and out? Can they see the "street view"? Are they able to see nearby attractions like restaurants and museums on the map? Can they get driving directions easily? Consumers are used to doing all of these things on platforms like Google Maps. They've come to expect similar capabilities on other sites they frequent. Look for a website solution that offers robust mapping options, preferably with granular search criteria.

4. Virtual tours (42%) - At the lowest end, virtual tours are just still listing photos strung together and overlaid with sleepy elevator music. Some solutions will let you overlay property details via voiceover or caption, but a lot of them are still, well, boring. However, some real estate pros are leveraging 3D virtual tour solutions like Matterport that create an entire three-dimensional model of a home that buyers can virtually "walk through." While that's on the pricey end of things, agents can still differentiate themselves with a little chutzpah. Grab a video camera and film your own walk through while talking about the home's great features. You can even do this on Periscope to attract the social media crowd.

5. Agent contact info (42%) - This is a no-brainer! No contact information means no lead conversions. Ideally, you should have your phone number on every page--including it in your site's header image is one easy way to do this. At the very least, your website should have a "Contact Me" page that lists your name, phone, email, and social media profiles. Some agents may set up a contact form on this page; if you do this, see if you can sync incoming consumer information into your CRM. That makes your site an easy way to grow your database.

6. Neighborhood info (40%) - The neighborhood you live in has a big impact on your quality of life. Buyers know this and want to know as much as possible about an area before they potentially purchase there. Help them out and let your local expertise shine by creating neighborhood pages for each of the areas you serve. If you're looking for inspiration, check out Realtor Jimela Bewley's outstanding neighborhood-centric websiteneighborhood-centric website.

7. Details about recently sold properties (37%) - These next two items go hand-in-hand. Consumers like a lot of information when searching for a home. Some buyers lean on information about recently sold properties to get a feel for pricing in a certain neighborhood. While IDX websites don't typically display this information, search portals like Zillow do. For more complete data, consider a VOW solution. These websites offer property data beyond what's just active in the market right now. For a platform that combines both IDX and VOW features, check out WolfNet's new Responsive IDX solution.

8. Pending sales/contract status (33%) - See above.

9. Open house information (24%) - Between Craigslist, the newspaper and even Facebook, there's no longer a single place where buyers can find information about upcoming houses. Lessen the confusion for your buyers by adding a page to your website that lists all upcoming open houses. Include the date, time, address, driving directions, and a link back to each home's property details page so that buyers can peruse all that detailed property information that they love so much.

10. Videos (22%) - Agents may be relieved to see video near the bottom of the list, especially since video creation can be a time consuming and costly endeavor. But still, nearly a quarter of buyers consider video "very useful" in their home search, a significant minority that you probably shouldn't ignore. If you're not sure where to get started, try these articles:

11. Real estate news or articles (8%) - If you balk at the idea of blogging, this single digit number is probably a relief. But before you decide to abandon blogging altogether, realize that fresh, frequently updated content has SEO value. It offers longtail keywords that may assist in consumers finding you. If you're stumped for topics, see this article for a dash of inspiration.