Content = Better User Experiences

by Jens Sorensen on October 6, 2011

We’ve officially moved into our new flat and slowly managed to furnish it. We had been living in a rather nice townhouse for the last two years but due to some very strange neighbours at the landlady’s current place she decided she wanted to move her family back in, which meant a nice eviction for us with 4 weeks’ notice. Initially, it seemed like a reasonable amount of time, but August and September is the probably the worse time to move, students trying to arrange last minute accommodation and we’re definitely in a competitive renters market. Couple this with the fact that we both work full-time which meant viewings would need to be during evening and weekends meant we needed to get our skates on.

So like any normal person (I guess), we hurriedly wrote down a list of requirements for our new property search.  These include:

    • 2 bed apartment / 3 bed house (extra room for guests)
    • Walkable to the city (Even though I rarely go)
    • Sea views (not the current lean out of the bedroom window I previously had)
    • Furnished (but we can’t be too fussy), white goods are a must though
    • We work Monday-Friday, so evening and weekend viewings only

Then we hit the property portals; RightMove, Findaproperty, Zoopla etc and there’s plenty of choice. We can use search facets to drill down by price, area, no. of beds, furnished/unfurnished etc. The large choice suggests we’d find somewhere easily but how wrong I was? Firstly, the majority of properties on these sites have one line descriptions with one or two photos (and some with no interior photos at all). I can only think of three reasons why an agent would do this:

    1. The agent didn’t have access to the property to take photos
    2. The agent can’t be bothered to take photos
    3. The agent wants to give you such limited information so you book a viewing

The first two are pretty lame excuses and therefore not really a justified reason. The third is fine but then maybe said agents should have some availability to actually view them. On more than 15 occasions when I called to arrange a viewing with separate agents the responses were one of:

    • We’re fully booked for viewings for at least a week and a half
    • We don’t do viewings after 5pm
    • It’s already been let

Like I said this is a busy time for moving in the area and renting is pretty competitive down here. But surely by offering up the information on the website I can make an informed decision to whether I want to even view a property rather than have to book a viewing to get the information. 90% of the properties we viewed with limited prior information we had no interest in. By making this information available it saves both my time and the agents.

This got me that that the property portal business model has some fundamental flaws, scrolling through hundreds of properties with no content suggest estate agents pay a fixed fee for property uploads rather than paying on a per property basis. From the agents perspective: If I have a property coming up on my books I am way more likely to get it uploaded as fast as possible even without any information because I can do it with no added cost and it will give my estate agency a greater chance of being noticed.

But in actual fact the following happens. For the customer: scrolling through hundreds of properties with no content makes my search experience frustrating and frustration isn’t really what make good user experiences. For the agent they waste valuable time showing properties which the customer has not shortlisted properly due to inadequate information.

Surely the quality and user experience of these portals would improve if agents were required to upload a minimum amount of information above that of a photo and one line description?

On a more positive note, we did eventually find somewhere to live and it ticked all the requirement boxes.

The flat and sea views

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