MINNEAPOLIS — In real estate, the mantra has always been location, location, location. Then it was web, web, web. Now there’s a new refrain: Mobile, mobile, mobile.
Smartphones and other mobile devices have upended the real estate world and the way brokerages do business. The latest data from the National Association of Realtors show that 71 percent of millennials start their house hunt using a mobile app or website. For Gen Xers, 64 percent started on the web, compared with 46 percent of baby boomers.
At Edina Realty, based outside the Twin Cities, traffic on the company’s website in 2015 increased 100 percent compared with the previous year, and visits to its mobile apps surged by nearly 20 percent.
Greg Mason, president and CEO of Edina Realty Home Services, said that data offered an “ah-ha!” moment when he and his team started thinking about rebuilding the company’s website.
“Our approach had to be mobile first,” Mason said.
It was nearly two years ago when the company decided to tackle the issue head-on by revamping its website to better serve people using mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones, to do their house shopping.
“Smartphones have become so ubiquitous. We had to take a serious look at the changing demographics, usage patterns, what consumers want and how they prefer to access information about homes,” Mason said.
Even the web itself and the way people access that information is changing dramatically as every successive generation of buyers brings its own preferences to the process.
Edina already had a mobile website, but it offered a more limited experience than what desktop users were getting because of the constraints of the small screen. So the company launched an effort to build a more responsive, integrated website that looks the same regardless of the device on which it is being viewed.
Nearly half of all consumers now say online content does not display properly on their smartphones, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.
Companies have been focused on providing responsive website designs that quickly adapted to the search habits of the user with multiple pages, photos and other visual elements, but translating that experience in an integrated way for a variety of mobile devices has been difficult.
The first order of business was taking control of that technology from a third-party vendor that retained all the responsibility and control of the site, making it somewhat cumbersome for agents and brokers to maintain and update the site.
That vendor was also more adept at catering to desktop devices and lacked the expertise the company needed to create a streamlined and consistent experience for mobile users.
Edina made a fundamental decision to take the website in-house with the support of two key partners: Microsoft and RBA Consulting, a national digital and technology consulting company that’s based in Minneapolis.
“By bringing Edina Realty’s website in-house, we can adapt the site to our clients’ changing preferences and reduce the time it takes to introduce innovative online tools to the market,” Mason said.
Eric Raarup, RBA Consulting vice president of digital experience, CRM and marketing, led a team of strategists, designers and technologists who were responsible for designing and developed the website.
Raarup said the biggest challenge was creating a modern website that serves loyal users while attracting new ones through an improved mobile experience.
“At the same time, we wanted to enable the Edina Realty team to have more direct ownership of the content, data and the platform,” Raarup said.
The website is built on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, which provides storage for data and creates virtually unlimited potential for updates and growth. The site is also much better suited to cope with fluctuations in web traffic.
That’s important for a company that’s managing more than 60,000 listings from 13 multiple listing services across the state, each with its own system for managing data.
The new site also features one-touch access to speak with an agent. Every listing automatically includes community statistics, county property data and market data including sales and listing information. There are also articles about buying, selling and other homeownership topics. And there’s an interactive map with a drawing tool to refine search parameters.
Shoppers can use a standard search bar, but they can also use do a quick search by clicking on one of several tiles with subjects like waterfront, new construction or a swimming pool. Buyers can search for homes based on the school attendance zones and review school ratings.
“The modernized Edinarealty.com features a search that allows consumers to easily select criteria that is important to them,” Mason said. “This approach allows for a user to more easily filter the list of available properties to their ‘must haves’ when looking for a home.”