After hearing that Chicago-based brokerage @properties launched a new and enhanced Web site this week, I set out to explore it, engage it, and pass along my initial reactions.
At first glance, the site features a large banner image with an easy-to-spot, basic property search input over it. I typed in “Bronzeville” to test out its neighborhood search function and was asked to register with the site. This is common practice on brokerage Web sites, but I find it annoying and suspect some buyers do too.
I put my peeves aside and registered. Search results revealed large photographs, prices, and bed / bath counts, which can be arranged by price, bed count, bath count, or square footage. If there’s a listing you like, you can save it to a user-defined group, e-mail it to a friend, request a viewing, and elect to receive updates about price changes and availability via e-mail. The interface is straightforward and simple to use.
Even better, you can use a Google Maps interface and a drawing tool to draw in a custom search area. Want to see every listing in four square blocks of Lincoln Park without having to sift through listings for the entire community area? Draw a box around the streets you’re interested in and click “Update Results”. Mapping is a tool that too few broker sites feature (it’s one of the things that we enjoy most about Redfin), so offering that and allowing users to define their search areas is a huge upgrade for @properties.
I had heard that the neighborhood section was pretty specific, so next I clicked “Neighborhoods” in the top navigation bar. Choose Chicago or North Shore, then choose a neighborhood and you are brought to a page with a map of the neighborhood, photos from a new Flickr photostream, and lists and reviews of restaurants, shopping, and home services.
Finally, the front page has a search field for the company’s real estate market reports, which offer neighborhood-specific data like average sales prices, amount of homes for sale, and recent trends. This is still a work in progress — we had no problem accessing the Lincoln Park report, but Bucktown‘s report was blank.