One of the more mobile activities a person will undertake is to look at real estate. No matter how much research you do at a computer behind a desk, eventually, you always go to physically inspect the property and area you are interested in. I am sure that all of us can recollect those times when we have driven by a property wondering what the price is, or wondered what properties are for sale in the area you love. These days, the chances of getting information from a flyer box, if there even is one, is very slim, and without a computer how do I search the area? Here is where our mobile phone can come to the rescue to provide on the go search.

For this mobile site review, I took a look at six sites that a person might pull-up to get real estate information: Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, Yahoo! Real Estate, Coldwell Banker and Century 21. I wanted to see how easy the sites were to use, how quickly they loaded, how fast I could get information on properties and areas, and how the site looked in the mobile environment. I put the sites through a tough test using the BlackBerry Pearl, one of the more popular handsets on the market. The Pearl is very demanding given its small screen and rudimentary user interface.

Here is how the sites stacked up. I have rated them top to bottom in terms of overall performance.

1. Coldwell Banker (www.coldwellbanker.com)

Coldwell Banker does an excellent job with the interface on their mobilesite. It has autodetection for the mobile environment, and the user interface is very intuitive. The pages load very fast and makes performing searches a breeze. It was disappointed that the listings were limited primarily to Coldwell Banker (somewhat expected) and that the pictures for the listings do not display well. Given the performance of the other sites, these were minor issues.

2. Century 21 (www.century21.com)

Clearly, Century 21 and Coldwell Banker have decided to invest in making their websites mobile. Century 21 also employs auto detection for mobile and provides a streamlined interface for property searches. It is not as clean as Coldwell Banker, but still usable. They employ some color schemes that make the site hard to use, and like the Coldwell Banker site, it’s listings are pretty limited, displaying mostly Century 21 properties.

3. Zillow (www.zillow.com)

If you are looking to get property price estimates, then Zillow is the site to use. They feature their Zestimate tool on their mobile site, at the expense of property search. The Zestimate is very easy to use, just type in the address and the details come right up. I also like the fact you can toggle between their mobile site and actual website, a nice feature. In general, the site is hard to use and does not do search well. I wouldn’t recommend it for search, but at least they are making an attempt to give mobile users a way to access their site.

4. Yahoo! Real Estate (realestate.yahoo.com)

Well, the site works, but the first thing I noticed is that it is not optimized for mobile. Inherently, this makes the user interface very difficult to navigate and the page load speeds very slow. If you can get by that part, it offers a lot of the same search capabilities as the website, because it IS the website, just rendered on the phone. For my taste it’s too slow, but it gives reasonable results. If the site was optimized for the mobile environment, it would be a definite contender for the top spot.

5. Trulia (www.trulia.com)

Well, the search on Trulia works, so I can’t knock that part. On the other hand, the site is not optimized for mobile, so it is very difficult to navigate and do basic searches. Also, it is way too slow to be useful since it is loading way too much overhead from the website. It also needs to have javascript running, which is not enabled by default on the Pearl. Once you are able to navigate to the search, you get reasonable results and can access more details. Overall, not a great site for doing mobile real estate searches.

6. Realtor.com (www.realtor.com)

Well, I don’t even know where to begin. Even after enabling the javascript on the Pearl, the site still would not run saying javascript was not enabled. Therefore, I couldn’t get by that error message do try any searches. Clearly, the site is not optimized for mobile, and quite honestly, it is unusable.

Overall, I was less than impressed with mobile websites for real estate. I recognize that many of these same companies have also launched smartphone applications that are targeted for searching. However, not all people have a phone that supports applications, and not all people want to download applications to their mobile device. Given that searching for real estate always turns into a mobile experience at some point, I would have expected that these sites would have performed much beter in the mobile environment. The good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement, and I am sure that more sites will be become mobile friendly throughout the remainder of the year.

What has your mobile experience been searching real estate in the mobile environment? What features do you think would be most useful for search, and are there any sites (or apps) that you would recommend?