We are pleased to announce the release of the new Village Properties mobile property search application, which we launched at the end of this past October. Village Properties is the largest independent brokerage in Santa Barbara, CA, and they were the #1 Real Estate firm by sales volume in the area for 2012.
Goals and Approach
When we began the project with Village Properties earlier this year, they already had a dedicated mobile site that had a responsive website design feel to it. A navigation menu was presented across the top of the page, and the user navigated the site as they would a standard desktop site. The design was functional, but it did not take full advantage of many of the features and capabilities of today’s mobile devices such as location and touch events.
Our goal with the upgrade was to improve the user interface, create a more engaging design, and incorporate more mobile device functionality into the app. To achieve these goals, we migrated the interface toward a more “native” look-and-feel while maintaining a web-based approach, which we were able to do through our use of the Sencha Touch framework. We also preserved the Village Properties branding by using the same color schemes from their website in the mobile app and provided a consistent user experience for their clients by providing similar options for things like property searches.
Providing a “native” mobile web experience
We were able to achieve a more “native” look-and-feel by doing the following:
- Flattening navigation of the app
Keeping the page hierarchy and navigation of the application as flat as possible allowed us to utilize a tabbed structure for navigating the app, similar to a native design. Once the app is loaded, the user is presented with direct access to the four key sections of the app – Search Nearby Properties, Search All Properties, Agents, and Contact Village. Once in the app, these four areas are always accessible via a tab bar at the bottom of the screen, while tabs across the top allow for navigation within each section (see right). Deep navigation occurs only when the user is viewing property search results or individual property details.
- Limiting server side interaction
Due to the variability in the speed and quality of mobile connections, communication between a mobile device and the server can significantly impact and limit the performance of a web-based app. Therefore, we made it a point to limit the amount of interaction required between the mobile device and the server. After the initial load, the app only communicates with the server to request data, such as property listings and details. By limiting the interaction, the web-based app performs similar to a native app, particularly when switching back and forth between tabs, or sections.
- Using touch events and gestures
The app was designed from the ground app with touch in mind. Buttons are used throughout to make it visually clear where actions can be taken, gestures are implemented where appropriate (such as swiping through photos), and typing is kept to a minimum through the use of selection boxes and dropdowns.
Incorporating mobile functionality
We also took advantage of mobile-specific areas of functionality by including the following in the app:
By utilizing the location capabilities of the mobile device, we included the option to search for properties by location. This feature allows the user to simply press a button from anywhere within the app to receive a list of properties that are located around them.
- Text messaging capability
In addition to standard contact functionality such as phone and email, we provide a method for people to connect with agents via text message through the app. Clients have the ability to use the method of communication they prefer and can communicate with agents or submit property inquiries via phone, email or text with the press of a button.
- Access to phone applications
Besides including access to obvious device applications such as the phone dialer and email application, we also provided access to other apps such as maps and driving directions. For example, when searching for a Village Properties office, we provide direct access to the mapping application which provides directions to the office from the user’s current location.
Results thus far
In the three weeks since we’ve launched the app, usage and engagement has improved over the previous design. Visits to the site over mobile devices have nearly doubled, bounce rates are much lower at ~35%, and time on the site is averaging about 5 minutes per visit. More importantly, large numbers of searches are being performed, property details pages are being viewed, and contact buttons are being used on both the agent directory and property details pages. One of the most surprising results is that property searches are being dominated by location, which is in contrast to the other real estate apps we’ve deployed where advanced searches dominate the search type.
Mobile is moving fast, and so are the requirements for apps. We’re planning to work with Village Properties over the next 12-18 months on a number of feature enhancements and upgrades. We will also be keeping a close eye on the analytics and measuring the performance in support of their mission, which is “to continually ‘raise-the-bar’ of excellence in the Santa Barbara Real Estate industry.”
View our latest mobile web-based app on any iPhone and Android device by opening your web’s browser and going to http://villagesite.com. You will be automagically redirected to the mobile app. Once loaded, you can start searching properties in the Santa Barbara area, contact Village Properties or get in touch with one of their agents for assistance!