Zillow Brings Real Estate Websites Out of the Dark Ages

By Trevor Gilbert , written on May 31, 2012

From The News Desk

For the past few months I’ve been looking for a good apartment, and I may already be at the point of giving up. Waiting on divine intervention doesn’t seem to do much, but how else does one find an apartment that isn’t a hole in the ground or $2,000 per month? However, there are a few rays of hope in the otherwise gloomy apartment-hunting process, one being not having to look at horribly designed, useless, Flash-infused realtor websites.

Because on that count, Zillow has come to the rescue.

The real estate marketplace company is rolling out a new feature called Zillow Premier Agent Websites that will bring independent real estate agents into the post-GeoCities era. The new feature allows realtors to take existing data from their listings and integrate them into heavily customized WordPress themes. These themes are then directly tied to Zillow’s main site, creating a nice circle of feedback.

The new websites are much better than the common realtor websites. Consider run-of-the-mill real estate sites that pop up with a quick Google search: horrible site number one and horrible site number two. They get the job done but only just, and they certainly don’t bring the user in or make the experience pleasureable in any way. Now, if you compared that to two sample sites that Zillow set up (here and here), there is a world of difference.

The quick comparison between the Zillow results and the non-zillow results shows a couple of things. The Zillow sites are cleaner, they’ve got more features, and their design doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out. In fact, we could even go so far as to say that they are -- GASP -- nice-looking websites.

We haven’t even gotten to the best part of Zillow’s feature, either. For the average independent real estate agent, designing and putting up a website is far outside of their domain expertise. So, in an effort to be “hip”, they hire a designer or developer once for an exorbitant sum and then leave the site alone. Contrast that with Zillow’s model, which is to charge $10 per month, with all of the features included. That’s not to mention that Zillow handles the cost of designing the site and has professional designers take care of the details.

Of course, the possible downside for this is that realtors have to bring all of their information into the system. For those that haven’t been paying attention to their Web presence, getting all of the info put into the system will likely be a huge hassle.

That being said, the rest of the setup on the Zillow feature appears to be dead simple. Once the realtor has signed up, he or she can go about customizing the site as much as desired. The site can cover not only basic location searching, but also maps, blogs, slideshows, and any other content that could bring in potential customers. With the entire platform being built upon WordPress, the service ends up having a certain familiarity to it, as well as the backing of years of work on the WordPress platform.

This product launch is part of Zillow’s long-term strategy to become the one-stop shop for all real-estate transactions. With the strategy being methodically rolled out beginning before the company went public last year, the company is trying to own every aspect of the real-estate market for both realtors, buyers, and sellers. It does face competition from smaller companies like Redfin and Estately, but at this point, neither has the breadth or feature set that Zillow does.

For my own personal interests, I hope real estate agents start using this. The trend of abandoned websites has gotten to be a bit tiresome recently, and with most of the time spent in the browser on the average day, hitting a user experience roadblock like a real estate website that hasn’t been updated in seven years is a bit of a nonstarter for me.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]