When people think about real estate tech, real estate portals usually come to mind. This is simply because they have massive audiences. Zillow’s portfolio of brands drives over 200M monthly unique users.The technology that powers these consumer platforms is impressive. But the product experience between portals is fairly similar. Two agent CRM apps can have a very different look and feel. But two major portals rarely have different features. The goal of these portals is often to capture user traffic. Then this traffic is converted to leads. Those leads are sold to agents or handled internally in Redfin's case.
Real estate portals solve a number of needs for consumers:
For agents, portals generally serve one purpose. Agents usually search properties on the MLS. Because agents don't need to search for properties or agents on portals, they only need the following addressed:
Consumer home search portals follow the same formula. They ingest data from the MLS, the source of the majority of listing content They also allow agents, consumers, and other listing platforms to post data. They then make some of this data searchable by filters and location. Detailed data is then displayed on detailed listing pages. This data is then supplemented with proprietary content and third-party data feeds.
The starting point of any consumer platform is the data powering it. The overwhelming majority of data on home search platforms comes from MLS. But this isn’t one simple data feed. There are over 800 MLSs across the country. A national platform has to partner with each one-by-one. The portal then must ensure the data feed works properly. Most portals also partner with other sources of inventory not on the MLS. For example, a real estate portal may include feeds from home builders or national property management companies.
Most portals also have a self-service option for agents and sellers. For example, Zillow allows owners to post FSBO listings. This allows Zillow to access inventory directly from its own users and present unique data from other platforms. Portals that have iBuyer programs can also drive unique data. For example, Zillow Offers and Opendoor both post their own homes on their consumer portal. But unique listing data is still just a small fraction of the 5+ million listings annually that show up on most platforms.
The most familiar consumer experience on any real estate portal is the search. Twenty years ago, map-based search of real estate listings was unavailable to consumers. Now, this is available on hundreds. of sites. The core functionality is similar across platforms:
Real estate portals have a challenging task with search. They want to provide users with lots of customization. But data quality from each MLS varies considerably. And most users generally use very few filters. The most frequent searches will simply have bedroom counts and a price range. Many searches will have no criteria whatsoever. This is why most search experiences don't get overly granular. Listing quantity and basic display is what is most important to the majority of users.
Property detail listing pages are what users see once they click on a listing from searches. Virtually all detail pages include the following.
There are a lot of bells and whistles on portal listing pages that enhance the user experience. The goal of extra data is to get the user to engage with the platform more. More trust in and time spent on a platform usually results in more inquiries submitted. Below are some of the features listing pages can include.
A large source of traffic for portals is Google. Portals have a large number of pages to accommodate searches from Google users. This is part of a process to rank highly in search engines called search engine optimization or SEO. Portals try to include unique and relevant content to answer frequent Google searches.
Real estate portals will create separate pages for buildings, neighborhoods, and each listing. This often includes pages properties not for sale yet. Automated valuation models help with this process. AVMs create a reason to have a listing page even for homes not on the market. When you search for an address online, often Zillow, Realtor.com, or Redfin will be among the first results. Other common SEO-focused pages are blog content, market trends, agent information pages, property rankings, and neighborhood guides. These often contribute to site experience on portals. But they are rarely core to solving critical user problems on finding homes like other features are.
Home search portals accommodate seller research/advertising. But they primarily serve buyers in their core features. For sellers who want to find an agent, new platforms have emerged to help. They typically help buyers as well. Homelight and UpNest are two examples of these types of platforms. These sites are powered by historical data on agents. This includes agent sales histories, reviews, and other performance data. The service will ask the buyer or seller a series of questions about the property they are selling or want. The agent search portal will then recommend relevant agents. In addition to data, recommendations will be influenced by agents paying for placement. The goal of these platforms is to connect a buyer or seller with a relevant agent who is a good fit and willing to pay for referrals.
The rise of iBuyers has popularized a new consumer experience based on valuations. iBuyers require visibility from consumers to find more homes to buy from sellers. As a result, they focus their sites heavily on getting users to provide information on their home for sale. The platform will then use internal data to provide a cash offer within 24 hours based on an internal AVM. Essentially, these platforms skip straight to the valuation that a seller would need an agent for. That said, iBuyers should not get all the credit for this approach. Agents have often valuation services as a way to generate leads for some time. There is even a company for valuation lead landing pages called Home Value Leads.