The Unconditional Blog

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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

8

Google exits map based property search service

Posted on: January 28th, 2011 | Filed in Featured, mobile, Technology, Website searching

google map search for real estate - Google SearchGoogle announced yesterday that it was ceasing the operation of its map based real estate search service. This service was introduced back in July 2009 as a complementary enhancement to their standard text search whereby listings for property for sale or rent were mapped based on addresses, supplied with listings by real estate agents and real estate websites (Realestate.co.nz fed content to Google for this service).

This is a significant decision by the world’s largest search engine.

In their official announcement they state that one of the factors in their decision was “the proliferation of excellent property-search tools on real estate websites“. They went on to say “We recognize that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible”.

Whilst I in no way doubt that the reasons they state are a true reflection of the circumstances that led then to this decision, I think there are other factors to consider.

I was always of the opinion that Google came at real estate search almost accidentally, especially in the early days. The concept was originated in Australia through the maps team under the leadership of the Lars Rasmussen. Their desire was to demonstrate their mastery of the mapping platform and locating property for sale and rent on these maps was appealing as data was readily available, with agents only too happy to collaborate (or put another way – the owner of the data would not object). The fundamental problem though, is that whilst mapping property is interesting and no doubt of value, it is not the intuitive first entry point of real estate search for buyers on the web.

Boutiques.com - Shop boutiques curated by style icons and you - Designer Shoes, Dresses, Handbags

The solution Google should have developed, in my opinion would have been using their image search platform. The primary consumer real estate search experience is really visual – rich imagery of properties for sale is so compelling. The map representation would have then been a natural complement to an image based search. In some ways Google recent foray with Boutiques demonstrated the true concept of a better approach to the real estate sector.

Another aspect of concern to Google could have been the view that an open free service for listing property opens up the potential for spammers to damage the user experience. Ed Freyfogle of Nestoria, who as an ex-Yahoo search expert is well positioned to comment, proposed this view that “The free model as demonstrated by Google means you’ll be spammed, get expired and fake listings, which are bad for users. And because you’re not earning any money, it’s hard to justify investing in the service”. There is no evidence that this did occur in NZ, but it was potentially a problem.

The existing specialist real estate websites like Realestate.co.nz that only accepts legitimate listings actively marketed by licensed real estate agents ensures that this eventuality cannot arise. A subscription fee model charged to real estate agents ensures the integrity of the content.

As to why Google will cease to provide this service. I suspect that the quoted reason being the changed structure of the Google Base to Google shopping data schema is the true reason – Google are a very highly advanced grouping of technologists.

In NZ the level of traffic from Google maps real estate search never eventuated to much. Realestate.co.nz fed 100% of content from day one and over the 19 months we received 220,000 session visits to Realestate.co.nz from the maps search – that is only 11,500 per month as compared to our total traffic being around 900,000 session visits per month. Consumers never easily found Google real estate map search, or even if they did, did not see it as that valuable.

Referring Sites - Google Analytics

The most likely people who did use it were real estate agents, who used it to better appreciate the total marketplace in their area. That is where it was of most value.iPhone map result example

The bottom line is that there is a significant place for mapping real estate listings – it is truly relevant in the context of mobile. When you are standing on a street corner, then a map representation of property near you for sale or rent is very compelling on your handheld mobile device – welcome to the smartphone apps from real estate portals!

Try it for yourself on the new Realestate.co.nz iPhone app.

3

Realestate iPhone app proves popular!

Posted on: December 7th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, mobile, Online marketing, Technology

blue bar chart growing - croppedThe first week with the app has been a blast! – we are delighted and so it seems are our audience, which feels great.

Since we launched 10 days ago we have had just over 7,000 downloads.

The usage so far is spectacular. Over the weekend we found that the level of traffic really picked up as expected (and as shared with us by US real estate sites with apps) as people used it to plan, navigate and collate their open home tours!

On Saturday we had the equivalent of 1 in 10 of our website visitors to listings on realestate.co.nz accessing property information via the app. During that period they viewed over 10,000 unique properties – that shows just how compelling the app is with people on the go, who want to be in touch with the property market.

Not only is the usage great, the feedback is awesome – thanks!

iTunes-1The iTunes store provides a platform for rating the app and we are again delighted to have had 20 written reviews and 25 ratings with an aggregate score of 4 out of 5 – plenty of people rate it 5 stars, there are some 4 stars and some 1 stars (its an open rating system!). The review section though does not allow the opportunity to comment back to posters, so here is some answers to questions asked.

FatCat Matt commented “Good app for the crazy ones buying houses like us. But needs to list the auctions date also!”

This is a good point and currently the app only highlights that the property is being sold by auction, tender or by negotiation. We will take this on board for future updates to the app.

ReaderG commented “Looks great but why not iPad too? Look forward to the upgrade”.

A good question and one that has been asked a few times. Firstly the app works well on the iPad – in the 2x mode you get great images (example below) and maps – the images are in the main configured for the iPhone 4 retina display so the quality on the iPad is pretty good.

iPad image example

Secondly we are waiting and reviewing the role of the iPad in real estate search process and are keen to get feedback. The principle of the iPhone app is to have a device which people can use “on the go” – whilst out and about at open homes and at the weekend. The integration of photos captured at properties as part of notes on the property is core to the principle of the app and this cannot be handled on the iPad – at the moment.

What I think this comment shows us is how valuable a search on a map is to the real estate search within the website of realestate.co.nz. We are currently working on this update for the new year on the website.

I can say that an iPad app is part of our plans for the near future as would be an Android app and Windows 7 mobile app.

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Mazone66 commented “Sadly doesn’t show over 50% of current listings. Disappointing”

The app is currently showing 45,296 listings of properties and building sections for sale as per the screen shot below (great feature this to be able to zoom right out to the whole of NZ).

iPhone addresses 6 Dec 2010On the site currently we have 49,314 homes for sale, 16,743 building sections for sale as well as 11,382 lifestyle properties. That means that the app has 58% of all the current licensed real estate listings we have on the website (we have a subscriber base of over 95% of all licensed real estate offices in NZ).

So Mazone66 is partly right in that we do not show all listings, but we do have more than 50%. There are 2 reasons for this lack of completeness. Firstly whilst we have close to 100% of all listing sent to us by real estate agents with an address, still a lot of agents request us not to publish the address, secondly address matching to map positioning is not an exact science (for more detailed explanation on these two issue please read my comment to a question on the earlier blog post on the launch of the iPhone app). Rest assured we are working really hard to improve the ratio of listings that are shown on the app – we want to provide the most comprehensive experience.

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Zoomzoom.mike commented “The only app that has ever asked me to go into general settings to enable location; the rest ask the questions within the app“.

We have double checked with our development team at Cactus Lab and they tell us that the code for the app for the iTunes App store does not have an option to ask for location or not to ask. The experience that has been noted here is not a function of how the app is built but may be a part of the set up of the phone on an individual basis. I am sorry Mike that this was the experience, the iTunes app store and the iPhone platform has many compliance requirements and we have to build to that, we want a seamless experience and we are sorry that you had this experience.

ZoomZoom mike also commented”Needs to have more specific search / filtering to make it truly personalized and useful. For example I only wanted to see 3 bedroom, 2 bathrooms, less than $400k

The “refine” button allows for filtering of bedrooms, price and type of property. It does not provide filtering on bathrooms. We did in reviewing the spec for the app judge that removing the bathroom filter would not be a great loss in the interest of use of space. Clearly we may need to review this.

iPhone refine options Dec 2010

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appUser John commented “This is a great idea, done really well, except for the out of date realestate.co.nz database.

3 out of 4 houses I found with this app were actually no longer on the market. There are other houses around that don’t show up on the app. Also, it crashed 3 times in the 1day I was playing with it

The issue in regard to the houses that are for sale not showing up on the app was answered earlier. In regard to property found on the app no longer being on the market. This is of concern to us. Our database of properties for sale (as well as rental, commercial properties, businesses and farms) is an integrated database with all of the customers of the website (real estate companies and agents).

We have over 1,000 real estate companies and offices sending us data everyday – sometime multiple times per day. In this way our database becomes a mirror of the database of the real estate offices and is very much live and dynamic with listings constantly being added and removed. These companies and offices want to ensure that they only advertise on our website or theirs properties that are truly on the market.

As to the experience of the app crashing, this is very frustrating. Naturally we have extensively tested the app however unlike a PC environment the mobile OS environment is susceptible to the connections with carriers and the nature of the computing platform. We are really keen to be able to investigate such crashes. To help us if you wouldn’t mind if you could go to this website and follow this instruction to log crashes – it does this through a sync feature with iTunes so you don’t need worry about remembering where you were on the app when it crashed!!

0

Partnering with Westpac adds value to the new Realestate.co.nz iPhone app

Posted on: November 27th, 2010 | Filed in Buying / Selling a home, Online marketing, Technology

Westpac New ZealandThe new iPhone app has been undertaken as a partnership with Westpac bank. There is, in my mind, real value in being completely open and up front about this as it is vastly different to the traditional sponsorship model, where a large branded company pays money to “get their brand” on some other product or other. Often resulting in a sense of “selling out”!

The partnership with Westpac could have been with any bank. We chose to work with Westpac due to their pro-active, open approach from their marketing department. It also speaks to the logical synergy (ahh – marketing speak!) – banks, mortgages and property buying are all one inextricably linked event or activity and cannot for the vast majority of home buyers be unbundled.

Westpac have been a partner on realestate.co.nz for over a year now with a smart mortgage calculator on the property-for-sale side of the website and also another calculator on the rental side of the site, offering renters an insight into what their weekly rental payments could afford them if they put that towards a mortgage payment. This rich integration which pre-populates the selling price / rental price of property into calculators, is judged (based on feedback) as valuable and an added-value service. What is great news is that Westpac are delighted with the lead generation from these tools and the partnership.

Westpac site calculatorsWith the iPhone app we wanted to go further than just a calculator. The app has the ability to let the user call the real estate agent or email the agent from the phone when reviewing property from right across the street. So why not allow people to contact someone to discuss the mortgage? Westpac have mobile mortgage managers out and about in most areas of the country and these can be contacted through the virtual bank branch on the app. Just locate the closest branch on the map and dial up the mobile mortgage manager based there.

As well as accessing finance help and advice through the app, Westpac naturally have a vast number of ATM’s around the country and adding these to the map view of property search makes total sense – we all need to top up cash reserves, and knowing that there is one round the corner from the cafe seems to make sense and add to the interactive ability of the app.

Finally Westpac has the ability to communicate really effectively with our target audience in a way that benefits both of us. They have very highly trafficked website and featuring the app on that site reinforces the values of innovation with their customers. Their email campaign also accesses a large database of property prospects and then lastly their latest TV commercial being aired over the summer enables them to reinforce the value of this partnership and showcase the app.

12

Realestate comes to the iPhone

Posted on: November 26th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, Technology, Website news

Apple - iPhone 4 - Video calls, multitasking, HD video, and moreIf you are one of the 200,000 odd people in NZ (or in fact one of the 74 million around the world) that own an iPhone then you can now discover NZ real estate on your smart phone.

Realestate.coIphone home page - cropped.nz has been since its launch 4 years ago a leader in online real estate marketing; through social media, rich property and community information as well as innovation through the adoption of Google maps. That is why we are pleased to bring NZ real estate to the iPhone. This is the first dedicated iPhone app for the whole NZ property market. It is also the most comprehensive app for discovering property for sale.

We built the app after extensive research from around the world. We wanted to build an app that was not just a website on a mobile platform – that is not what buyers want.

We reviewed the top apps from the US (Zillow, Trulia and Redfin) and from the UK (Rightmove), we also looked at specific real estate company apps (Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate). We wanted to bring the best experience we could to make sure we offered a great experience – something that people would love to use and love to share.

In some ways the app needs no description – it is designed without a user manual. It is intuitive. However here’s 10 great reasons why this app is a must for any house hunter or real estate enthusiast:

  1. It is a discovery device Download the app and first off it shows you a property that is for sale near you! Hit the “near you” button and you are instantly shown what is for sale within a 1km radius (actually depends where in the country you are – in a remote location means it will search a wider radius).iphone near me
  2. Open Homes We have highlighted open homes with a flag to allow you easily see what you could pop around to view today or this weekend. Great when you have a quiet afternoon.
  3. Refine your search From the map you can refine your search – fancy property over $500k but less than $700k with 3 bedrooms, no problem. Fancy spreading the net wider than just your current location – zoom out on map to see a broader range. Keep zooming out a far as you like to see the whole country if you like!
  4. Zooming! You will notice that as you zoom out we have clustered the pins into blue dot which are numbered – this is the aggregate of listings in this area.iphone clustering
  5. Check out all the photos Found that interesting property along the road? Just tap to see the full listing details and all the photos. Flick the iPhone round to see them in landscape mode. Like the property but want to know more? – just call the agent or send an email – all from the iPhone.
  6. Virtual open home notebook When reviewing any property (especially open homes) you can make notes on all aspects of the property. Hit the inspection button and you can rate, make notes and add photos (or video) for any section of the property – the living area, the kitchen, bedrooms, outside etc. Also check out the Tips for things to look for and checkout when inspecting a property. All these notes then become part of the stored “My Property” section of the app housing you favourites. At this stage we have not, given this is version 1 synchronsied these with your “My Property” section on the website, that will come later.iPhone taking notes at open home
  7. Search by location Find out about property for sale anywhere in NZ. Given the comprehensive content of Realesate.co.nz why not go check to see what is for sale in your dream location. Use the “Search” function on the home page and either select by region, district and suburb or else type in the name of the town or street in the search box at the top – whichever way you choose you instantly see what’s for sale there.
  8. What you see is what you get Seem simple but this app only shows properties on the map where we have an address supplied by the agent. If you want to check to see if there are other properties for sale then hit the “list view” button on the map result page to see all the properties for sale in the area.
  9. Favourites Your favourites you have saved as well as open homes and also the most recently viewed properties are all stored in the “My Property” section – we want you to easily find that great property you were just checking out.
  10. The Mortgage So you have found that perfect home – but can you afford it? We have partnered with our good friends at Westpac to bring you an affordability calculator for each property. Check it out to see what the fortnightly or monthly repayments might be for different terms and different deposits. Then check out the local Westpac branch near you – right on the app for the contact details of a mobile mortgage manager to assist you. Oh and by the way the maps also feature locations for all of the Westpac ATM’s so there is no excuse for being short of some cash!iPhone westpac

So as you can see we are excited by this new app, so please let us know what you think, go to iTunes and download the app or visit our download page for the iPhone and leave feedback or on iTunes.

We are conscious that this is version 1.0 – we will continue to develop and improve the app, so tell us what you would like to see and how we can improve it. We can learn best when we listen.

0

21 years and the internet comes of age

Posted on: October 18th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, social media, Technology

Computer mind explosion1989 – just 21 years ago. How different things were then. I was not living in NZ at the time so I was not here to witness the birth of the internet which is being so beautifully documented this month by the Wellington digital agency Heyday.

They have created an online visual calendar of the past 21 years of the internet’s birth, adolescence and maturity with a single day spanning a year. They are calling it “Down to the Wire“. Started on Monday 11th October and due to conclude on Monday the 1st November. The project is a comprehensive visual history of the internet. I commend them for their execution which has become addictive daily viewing.

1989_ The Story of New Zealand_s InternetAnother compelling piece of viewing has been the superb BBC documentary series “Virtual Revolution” which has been aired on Sky’s Living Channel for the past 4 Sunday nights. This is a series of unprecedented richness and insight into the impact the web has had on our lives over the past two decades. I was somewhat surprised to see it air on Sky as opposed to TVNZ – a sad reflection of the output of formula-driven, mass-market, mind-numbingly repetitive crime dramas that seem to proliferate the TV screen these days. This is in the classic form – a great documentary.

The series is energetically presented by Aleks Krotoski who has had the opportunity to interview some of the great luminaries of the technical world – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Al Gore (the man who claims to have invented the internet – as opposed to the person who did invent the web – Tim Berners Lee, Steve Wozniak, Eric Schmit as well as a host of other key people – the only conspicuously missing individuals would be Larry Page & Sergey Brin and of course Steve Jobs.

If you have missed watching the series I recommend you at the very least watch some of the online videos on the website and hope some time soon another channel broadcasts it or see if you can download it on iTunes. It is incredibly good, not so much as a chronological history of 20 years of the web but more as a forward looking discussion of the impact that this digital revolution has had and will continue to have on our daily lives.

I reflect on the past 20 years and consider myself fortunate to have been a witness to this period of history and further to have had the opportunity to have participated in some of these technological advancements. I have to confess to being defined by sociologists as a late baby boomer (although someone very kindly called me the oldest Gen Y’er), and as such am judged to be a digital immigrant, despite this tagging I am passionate about what the future holds through yet further technological advancements; the scope of which we may not yet have even conceived.

Indulge me if you will, to allow me to share some of my personal highlights of the early years of the web!

  • I first came across the principle of the web in 1989 when I was in France on business and discovered Minitel – a private web which allowed Parisians the ability to order stuff through a modem connected terminal in home.
  • I first used email in 1994 with communication between London and LA during my time working for a movie company. I felt trepidation in sending an email direct to a studio exec, somehow I judged in those days that a fax message was in someways less intrusive than a message flashing up on a PC screen.
  • I first discovered the web through a hideous website for Village Cinemas in 1995 through a Netscape browser – I recall the experience of blue and red font on a black screen as being really straining on the eyes!
  • I logged onto the web for the first time from my first home computer in 1996 – I recall unpacking that Xtra box allowing me to connect up to my then new PC Direct PC to the web and establish my own personal email address.
  • In 1999 I managed the design and build (or to be correct had built for me by the amazing guys at Webmasters) my first website – www.mode.co.nz (sorry no longer there!) – it was a site to compliment the specialised service of new home building of masonary constructed houses that I was involved with at the time, as part of Fletcher Building.
  • In 2000 I undertook a study tour of the US with a team from Fletcher Building to investigate e-Business (this was the term of the day then). We visited some great companies (Cisco / GE / GM) and some great dotcom hopefuls (Ariba / Buildnet / Webvan). The latter company – Webvan was my favourite – delivering home grocery shopping via the web. It was probably the most expensive dotcom crash ever taking over US$1,000,0000,000 of investors money with it as it crashed, a very small piece of which was my own money!
5

The smartest agents recognise the power of technology – how we are helping

fore-logo-homeLater this week Realestate.co.nz will host its first ever conference focused on the role that technology in all its forms is having on the real estate industry. Titled the “Future of Real Estate” the conference to be held on Friday 3rd September at Waipuna conference centre in Auckland and will feature both domestic and international speakers as well as workshop sessions focused to the key business tools of the web – Facebook, blogs and Twitter.

The conference is very much influenced by the experiences I have encountered in attending the Inman Connect conferences in the states each year. Coupled with the style and richness of the Inman conference the NZ conference echos a quotation which I first heard at least 3 years ago and still to this day rings so true:

“Traditional agents will not be replaced by technology.. they will be replaced by agents with technology”

The quote comes from an Australian real estate conference and every time I use it; it reinforces to me the critical requirement of real estate professionals to recognise that technology is not the threat, but rather it is the means to take a giant step forward and surpass all those in the industry who believe technology is the threat. Over these past years I have been keen to get together an event in which we can help those in this industry who want to move ahead and who are keen to meet like minded individuals and listen and collaborate with the best in the business. This conference is the realisation of this ambition.

The event features some great contributors:

From the US we have invited Joel Burslem. Joel is a respected expert within the real estate industry. He is a blogger, real estate marketer and consultant. He founded the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog whilst working at Inman  News and now is a key part of the consultancy firm of 1000 Consulting. Joel will be providing an overview of the trends in digital marketing around the world with detail around the role of social media in this industry.

From closer to home we have Nicholas O’Flaherty who is MD of Bullet PR, a respected specialist media consultancy company whose clients value the skills and innovation Nicholas’ company brings to the implementation of social media. Bullet recently hosted the enormously popular Social Media Junction conference with outline plans for a further event later in the year. Nicholas will be picking up on Joel’s presentation and bringing the local perspective as well as the practical examples of the best in the marketplace today in NZ using all forms of social media.

Addressing the ever present question in relation to the web – that of search we are very pleased to have Charles Coxhead joining the conference. Charles has a long and distinguished career specialising in search. As an online search and marketing consultant he has worked with clients such as Air New Zealand, Expedia as well as Realestate.co.nz. He will bring some focus to the ever evolving search landscape that nowadays transends beyond just Google into real time search as well as hyper local search and in so doing will apply the test as to the relevance for the real estate industry.

Our final keynote speaker is Simon Baker. Simon is well known and highly regarded within the real estate industry primarily in Australia where for 7 years he lead the stellar growth of realestate.com.au into the substantial ASX listed company with revenues exceeding A$160m. Since leaving the REA group, Simon has persued a strategy as an investor and consultant, his focus in online classified businesses with international scale and within that area he has investments in a number of Asian real estate portals. He brings to the conference a reflection on the criticality of the real estate portals and the heart of the business which is exposure to real estate listings through online marketing. He will also provide some interesting insight into the comparison of development between Australasia, Europe, US and Asia when it comes to real estate online.

The event promises to be a fast paced, rich content experience which in addition to the keynote presentations will feature workshop sessions on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online etiquette. The day culminates with a panel discussion on the topic of the future of real estate and its implications for all involved in the industry.

The event is for the real estate industry and anyone involved in the industry at whatever level or in whatever capacity is welcome to register. There is a limited number of spaces still available so if you are interested please register before the event as registrations need to be made online prior to the event.

3

The touch screen – transforming our consumption of media

Posted on: July 26th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, Technology

touch screen croppedI sense that we are reaching a tipping point (to quote the title of the excellent Malcolm Gladwell book) when it comes to our engagement with consumption of media.

I have just spent a week in the US at admittedly a technology conference for real estate, but my overwhelming sense is that we will witness within a year (maybe two at the outside) the transformation of our media consumption

We are at the dawn of the transformation where our simple finger(s) will drive our actions.

It started barely 3 years ago with the launch of the iPhone and as ever the adoption curve has become exponential. The iPhone was followed within a year with a couple of other smart phones all using our simple index finger to drive a complex computing platform in the palm of our hand. That couple of mobile devices (calling them phones is misleading) has grown into a flood as the Google Android platform has provided the open-source option to Apple’s proprietary system.

Adding to the smart phone platform has come the iPad, with a a staggering 3 million iPads sold in the first 100 days – far exceeding the initial sales of iPhones 3 years ago – this for a product costing over US$500 of which the majority of the first quarter of a million buyers had not even seen let alone touched the device before they typed in their online credit card order. A staggering US$1.5 billion in pre-order sales has to be a record for a brand new piece of complex technology.

This pervading wave of new hand-held mobile computing devices radically changes our engagement from the humble keyboard to the screen. For anyone who owns or has used a smart phone or an iPad (of which there are reported to be several thousand in NZ already, yet it is not officially on sale) the user experience is both intuitive and instantly engaging. You are drawn to “click” (touch) and swipe; you pinch to zoom and rotate to change perspective – the keyboard suddenly seems part of the typewriter generation.

The comment was made to great amusement at the conference that the 3 year old son of one of the presenters went up to the TV the other day and tried to swipe the screen to change channel!

Having said that I am still typing this using a traditional keyboard, and that is where the demarcation exists. The touch screen mobile devices are consumption devices, whereas for content creation the traditional PC with a keyboard still retains a functional efficiency. There is a blurring of the edges admittedly when you attach a blue tooth keyboard to an iPad, but that reinforces the point that our adopted manual dexterity for the keyboard is hard to supplant with a touch screen – some how the physical keys depressed to reinforce typing is too ingrained in our psyche, or at least it is for our current generation.

As a point of clarification the expression “media consumption device” does not imply a restriction to just reading magazines, viewing music and movies or playing games – just take a look across the endless aisles of apps for the iPhone or iPad, now totaling close to 200,000 and you can see almost every conceivable concept presenting every conceivable form of data.

So where does all of this take the real estate industry and the property searching process. As I stated in the summary from the Connect conference, “Location is context” and mobile computing devices are location aware devices so this tipping point will be critical for real estate. Being mobile to be able to view property information will benefit both buyers, sellers and agents. The insatiable demands of buyers and sellers to be better informed in the data that lives behind property transactions will be forthcoming at the point of decision making – inside a property, for as much as rich media can provide great insight to a property nobody is going to make that buying decision without doing the walk-through, well almost nobody!

Full Disclosure

I have both an iPhone and iPad – my experience with the iPhone was instantaneous (although I was a late adopter), it is both intuitively simple and yet so staggeringly valuable and versatile. As for the iPad, I have had it for 2 months and I had an initial passion as part of the novelty; this waned slightly, however once I adjusted to its use as a complement to a laptop and the addition of some awesome apps I am now beginning to get hooked – seriously hooked! The recent launch last week in NZ will certainly only enhance the experience as I suspect we will see a flow of excellent local apps onto the “shelves” of the app store.

9

Connect – the global conference where technology and real estate “connect”

Posted on: July 17th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, International, Real Estate Industry, Technology, Website searching

San Francisco skylineWhat began as a small gathering of technologists and tech minded real estate people over a decade and a half ago has evolved into the most significant global conference on real estate – not just real estate technology. I make this statement as the reality is that technology is, has been, and will in the future, continue to be the largest change agent of this industry globally.

Connect is hosted by Inman News – the specialist news service for the real estate industry and its charismatic founder and host of the conference Brad Inman.

This year’s San Francisco event (they are hosted twice a year – New York in January) has just wrapped up and for me as a regular attendee the value of the event never fails to deliver.

A key essence of the event is information overload. The feeling that after 3 days you have been exposed to the largest mass of insight and emerging comprehension of where this industry is heading in the future. There are always (I sense deliberately) more sessions and content than one person alone can consume. That means that after these 3 days I have to sit down and re-read the scribbled notes and digest the learning in order to come up with a picture that has emerged from the conference.

There isn’t a single message promoted as the theme of the conference, but there is always, in summing up the conference an emerging train of thought that can best describe the conference. For me this year that came from one of the final speakers on the last day – Matt Gilligan of SimpleGeo, who made the simple statement that “Location is Context”. A simple statement, but in my mind loaded with powerful inference. For over the past 2 years the emerging role of mobile technologies has grown and grown to the situation where at this conference more than any other preceding Connect conference mobile was all anyone talked about. Mobile is all about location and being location aware is in a broader context a radical paradigm shift for almost all businesses, however for real estate location is at its very core. The phrase “Location, Location, Location” is an international phrase as well known as the McDonalds “I’m Loving it” or Nike’s “Just do it”

A show of hands ably demonstrated the view of the attendees (some 2,000 of them) as to ownership of smart phones (>70%) and iPads (c.15% after just 3 months on sale!). This industry, or at least those at the forefront of technology adoption within it, are embracing mobile as a game changer for the industry. The exhibiting companies as well as almost all presenters talked and demonstrated smart phone apps and iPad apps – next year this portfolio will undoubtedly extend to include Andriod and potentially Microsoft Mobile Window 7.

Another interesting stream of content from the conference of specific relevance to Realestate.co.nz was the whole area of search. A couple of excellent panel discussions and workshop looked at search as the online tool of entry to the real estate marketplace. Providing an unbiased and external perspective was Gary Flake of Microsoft who rightly asked the question; could there be a better way of searching for property? after all the facet based search on price, bedrooms, bathrooms and property type is really a crude way of interpreting the characteristics of lifestyle / lifestage. This theme was picked up by a workshop group who having the benefit of a 24 period to debate and discuss the issue came back with some excellent proposals around leveraging the “Social Graph” to apply all that accessible online information tied up collectively in all your personal behaviours, actions and intent online to better present property that really should suit you.

The practical application being that if you were able to share your key social graph around these parameters – salary = price range; family scale = size of house; age = size of house / location; entertainment likes & activity = location / style of house. All of these clues are bound up in your profile & activity on sites such as Facebook / LinkedIn / Amazon / iTunes / Netflix / your bank account. Now clearly this list includes some very non-public data and as such raises some red flags, but just challenge the concept for a moment to say, if this social graph was inputted through an algorithm to the database of available property on the market as well as alerts to new property, it would certainly provide a richer set of results than just searching for 3 bedroom homes under $500,000 in inner city suburbs of Wellington.

The Connect conference is in many ways a reaffirmation of the fact that we live in a wired (& more so these days wireless) and mutli-connected world and the issues and challenges faced in the real estate market in NZ are so similar to the issues in Europe, US, Australia and Asia, further evidenced by attendees from all the major developed countries of the world represented at the conference. This was further evidenced when set against the hi tech apps and online tools profiled at the conference, a presenter talked of the abandonment rate of telephone inquiries which divert to voice mail and from research how low the return call rate was. It left a sobering reinforcement of the fact that technology cannot replace the human process, but hopefully can make the smarter agents more effective and efficient and enable them to track that performance more accurately as an individual or business owner.

Connect is a valuable event. It has grown from being a US domestic event to become an international event – even noted by many at this years conference that Australians seems to be “everywhere”. I personally was delighted to see a good number of NZ representatives eagerly absorbing the content. It is a conference I would highly recommend to anyone with a conviction to invest in their career in real estate and who recognises the game-changing role of technology in that future.

Sydney skyline

Great news could be on the horizon, there was a question asked in the closing session as to other locations for hosting Connect. The question was posed by an American, their question was directed at an alternative US location, but the answer from Brad included the inference that they might look at international locations – Beijing and Sydney were mentioned.

To have a Connect in our Asia Pacific region would be enormous and I will share my passion and support to try and get such a conference organized.

15

Time to upgrade your web browser to enjoy the new Realestate.co.nz websites

Posted on: April 22nd, 2010 | Filed in Technology, Website news, Website searching

mosaic-browserI have today personally received 3 complaints in regard to our newly released websites – the common thread was that these sites were broken! – the tabs did not work and the search was unusable. Not good news to any website business. The question I had to ask myself and the rest of the team was – how could it be that we could get these 3 distinct and specific issues when thousands of sessions were being served in the past 24hrs with no issue?

Further investigation revealed the common theme – Internet Explorer 6.

Here comes the brutal truth – our new website architecture does not support and will not support Internet Explorer 6 – sorry!

The constant challenge that faces every web based company is what browser to support. The web has been in operation since the very early 90’s – at that time Netscape was the king of the hill, over the years new and improved web browsers have been released. Each new release bringing enhanced user benefits to speed up and improve the experience of using the web. The challenge in building a website is to be able to ensure the majority of users can enjoy the features and benefits of the website without having to compromise to suit everybody.

There is a very clear and trusted rule which I believe is appropriate to apply in such matters – that rule is “Support to N-1”. This translated means that you build a website which is compatible with the latest version of all available web browsers and also in addition to support the last version. In the case of Microsoft Internet Explorer, the current version is IE8, so we built the new site to run on IE8 and the predecessor IE7. We did not build it to be compatible with IE6.

This rule is consistently applied to other web browsers such as Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera etc. The big problem is that the rule of “n-1” for all other browsers is not a problem as most users of non IE browsers tend to upgrade regularly taking advantage of security enhancements and feature improvements. It is also important to remind people – browsers are free to download. When it comes to IE6 however the problem we and many thousands of web companies across the world face is that IE6 was probably the most widely used web browser, as it was packaged with the hugely successful Microsoft Windows XP and many companies chose not to upgrade to Windows Vista in early 2007 and therefore have not chosen to upgrade to the later version of IE7 or IE8.

I don’t need to labour the point, but if you are using IE6 I would recommend reading this Wikipedia page on IE6 – it states that the IE6 browser is “widely derided for its security issues and lack of support for modern web standards, making frequent appearances in “worst tech products of all time” lists, with some publications labeling it as the “least secure software on the planet.” It is a fact that the French and German governments have advised their citizens not to use IE6. It is also important to remember than IE6 was released in 2001 – it is 9 year old technology which in web years is close to half a century!

So whilst I am sorry if you are experiencing issues in viewing these new websites. My recommendation would be to download IE8 – it only takes a few minutes, but the value to you will be immeasurable not least in knowing that the security of your internet usage will be many hundreds of times better and your enjoyment of the new Realestate.co.nz websites will be enhanced.

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Twitter – carving out a valuable space in our day to day world

Posted on: March 11th, 2010 | Filed in Online marketing, Technology

twitter-birdOne of the great benefits of a blog is the ability to go back in time to review old posts and see how issues have changed and then refer to them. So when it comes to Twitter I find myself writing a third post on this subject.

My first post was back in August 2008 and at that time I had set up a Twitter account but felt a bit like a sideline spectator trying to better understand the benefits outside of event commentaries.

Some 6 months later and I found myself with 3 months of active usage under my belt and a growing appreciation of the benefits of this communication technology.

So a further year on and I find that Twitter is now my “first place” for news as well as status updates on my world and the connections I want and need to make with the world around me. It is more important than news websites and RSS feeds and with the many applications drawing on the API it is conspicuously becoming a more frequent check than my email.

Simply put Twitter is a live feed into the world I am interested in which has a large component of real estate, and sourcing real estate news can be undertaken so easily by following the key people who like me use Twitter to highlight their latest blog post or direct people to interesting stories on the web.

Every time a major event or news story breaks I can now be assured that if I am at my laptop I will hear about it / see it on Twitter – no longer do I have to refresh the news sites. With mobile clients even when away from my laptop I know truly the world is at my finger tips.

For me Twitter is certainly not inane banter – it is a business tool to aid productivity and comprehension. It is also a marketing tool to ensure that my aspiring communications about this real estate industry are spread and read widely. I do that by cultivating a loyal following through valuable referrals to information and articles of interest – the very essence of reciprocity.

So 15 months into serious Twitter usage it is time to further tailor my approach to Twitter. We have launched a Realestate.co.nz Twitter account.

Realestate.co.nz (realestateconz) on Twitter-1

From now on the tweets on the Realestate.co.nz (@realestateconz) and my own account (@alistairnz) will  be clearly separated. Realestate.co.nz Twitter account will focus on news and articles purely related to the industry of real estate. This will comprise articles on the industry for both agents and consumers alike, it will also draw attention to recent blog posts written by agents who blog both on their own and on the Voices platform on Unconditional. The account will also be able to provide a status update to the website – should anything need urgently communicating.

As for my own account, I will tend to use this to share observations and insights into things I think are important – real estate certainly, but also technology and business in general.

So please come join us and follow Realestate.co.nz on Twitter and/or follow me on Twitter.

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