With the holiday season upon us, we tend to start thinking about how our waistlines have a nasty habit this time of year of expanding as this year comes to a close and the new one begins. Fear those Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas cookies no more- we’ve found fitness apps that will help you stay active and healthy this holiday season so you can start your new year off on the right foot.
We are pleased to announce the availability of the Riskin Associates mobile application. Based in Montecito, CA, Riskin Associates has been the top selling Santa Barbara real estate team for the past decade. The award-winning team lists some of the most coveted estates on the south Santa Barbara coast. We were engaged by them to create a mobile application that would add to the services they provide their buying and selling clients that have made them a market leader.
Goals and Approach
For the design of the application, we took queues from the Village Properties mobile website we developed since the Riskin Associates team is part of the brokerage. We decided to keep the overall flow of the application intact, but the branding, content and functionality needed customized for Riskin Associates. We wanted to accomplish a number of goals with the modified design:
- Produce a clean, elegant design that conveys the elegance and luxury of the properties they represent
- Provide a vehicle for them to highlight and market their distinctive properties
- Incorporate visual imagery that reflects the unique nature and beauty of their listings and the surrounding area
- Create a finished product that would further differentiate their brand and set them apart as a leader in the market
Key features of the application
In order to develop the key features of the application, we evaluated their online presence which uses vivid photos and imagery to highlight their property listings. We wanted to provide a similar visual experience on mobile and give Riskin Associates the flexibility to highlight the different properties they represent. In addition to the essential features such as property search (both by location and by criteria), methods to contact the team, and an about us section, we incorporated the following:
- A vivid home page focused on a full width image that can be dynamically changed by Riskin Associates
- A featured listing section that allows them to highlight the properties they represent – each listing is its own interactive photo gallery that can be compiled and controlled by the Riskin Associates marketing team
- Links to custom content created by the marketing team such as property brochures that are hosted through Calaméo
You can access the application via any iPhone or Android device by opening the browser (or Safari) on your phone and going to www.montecito-realestate.com. You will be automatically redirected to the mobile application where you can learn more about the Riskin Associates team and explore their featured listings.
Raising the bar for service and performance
It was a pleasure working with the Riskin Associates team on the development of their mobile application. The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the project is evident in the finished product. It is a reflection of the time and personal attention that they give each of their clients. It shows in all aspects of their business, particularly in the level of service they provide their clients and the attention-to-detail they put into their marketing materials. With the availability of their mobile application, they have another tool that reinforces this high level of service, whether it is used for marketing properties or helping prospective buyers identify properties to purchase.
The Riskin Associates mobile application is another example of how leading brokerages and agent teams are embracing mobile to raise the bar on the services the provide their clients, differentiate themselves in the market, and further reinforce their leadership position in the market
We are proud to announce the release of the Surterre Properties mobile application. Based in Newport Beach, CA, Surterre Properties is Orange County’s leading luxury real estate brokerage. Surterre strives to provide their clients the best of both worlds. On the one hand, they employ experienced, successful, locally based agents who are dedicated to delivering personalized client service and results. On the other hand, Surterre possesses the strategic vision, marketing acumen and global reach one would expect to find at a much larger company. We were engaged by their in-house marketing and design team to transform their mobile presence into an engaging, interactive and visually attractive experience that would represent their brand’s commitment to the highest levels of quality and service that their clients have come to expect from them.
Goals and Approach
Surterre places a heavy emphasis on branding, particularly the look, feel, and treatment of their brand elements. Their attention to detail is a competitive advantage and one of the things that makes them unique. Our challenge was to bring that same approach to the mobile application while at the same time providing a deeply engaging and interactive experience. It required us to work closely with them to define the user interface and overall user experience while giving them the flexibility to provide significant input into the process, particularly the visual design of the application.
Here were the goals we had for the project development:
- Represent the Surterre Properties brand effectively
- Create a deeply engaging experience for the end user
- Use the mobile web to provide application availability across iOS and Android
- Improve site usability and lead generation capability over their existing mobile solution
- Incorporate gestures and other mobile design patterns into the user interface
- Provide an architecture that allows expansion of site content over time
- Make use of context as appropriate to improve the user experience
Partnering to represent the Surterre brand
Our first step in the development process was to review Surterre’s online presence to determine how they differentiate their services and what makes them unique. Real estate is still a local business with each region having its own characteristics that need to be represented in their marketing materials. Also, each brokerage further differentiates itself by offering services or features that are not available from other firms in the area. For example, Surterre Properties dedicates a section of their website to Best Buys, which is a carefully compiled collection of exceptionally valued properties in coastal Orange County communities. It was important that in addition to covering basic features such as property search, agent search, and contact points, that we were able to incorporate specialized features such as Best Buys.
After determining the key features of the site, we worked closely with their marketing and art department to let them incorporate their own visual elements, brand and styling. To make a long story short, we provided the expertise for the mobile UI and UX, and Surterre provided the visual identity to make it look and feel like a Surterre product. Our partnership allowed them to have full control over the visual styling to make sure the look was unique to Surterre and presented the brand properly, especially since a mobile device is often the first interaction a client has with the company. A poor experience there could have a significant impact on the user’s overall perception of the brand.
We went through a number of iterations to evolve the site from the first mock-up that we developed, which provided the foundation for the key features and flow of the application. Then we had them apply their brand elements on top of the foundation. Like building a house, we provided the blueprints for the site, framed it and applied the drywall. Surterre provided the interior design and added the soft touches like paint colors, furniture and the odds-and-ends that made the site their own.
The end result is a mobile application that incorporates a significant amount of visual imagery, which is an important part of the Surterre brand and reflects their commitment to taking care of the environment. As a certified Ecobroker®, they operate with sustainability in mind and donate a portion of their profits to local environmental organizations to preserve the beautiful environment along the Orange County coastline.
Key features of the application
After evaluating their existing online presence, there were a couple key features that we wanted to preserve in the mobile application. We also wanted to make sure that we included other features that have become important pieces for all of our projects. Here is a short overview of the key features.
- Best Buys (see right)
As mentioned above, Best Buys is a unique service that Surterre provides. We made sure that it is included as a dedicated page that is accessible within the property search section as well as from the main application navigation via the slide out menu. Users also have the ability to sign-up for Best Buy notifications through the application without having to go to the desktop site.
- Open Houses
Surterre puts a significant amount of effort into open houses. The application has a dedicated open house page that is accessible from the home page, through the property search navigation, and through the main application navigation. The open houses are presented in a unique format and can be filtered quickly by city and day.
- Direct Linking
We provided deep linking into the application via the desktop URL structure. It permits Surterre agents and marketing staff to share property links or agent profiles via email and social media. When the user accesses the link, they are directed to the proper view whether they are on a mobile device or desktop/laptop computer. Even dedicated pages of the mobile application, like open houses, can be linked to directly. You can try it by clicking on the following link on a mobile device, http://www.surterreproperties.com/best-buys.php, to see a mobile view of the Surterre Properties Best Buys (or you can read the QR code below with your phone).
- Mobile web application with a native user interface
Users can access the application using the browser on either an iOS or Android device and get a native experience. We don’t compromise the mobile experience that users have come to expect on the phones just because they access the site over the internet. I feel this is one place where responsive design comes up short, especially in real estate, but I digress. This is a much bigger topic for a different time.
Incorporating mobile design patterns and functionality
Our design of the application also incorporate many mobile specific features and design patterns. Here’s a sampling of some of the features that we included in the Surterre mobile application.
Location is such an important piece of real estate, so it is only natural to include it in the mobile application. We use location to aid in property searches and to help users find open houses.
- Native application integration
The phone, after all, is a contact device. We make use of the native dialer and email applications so the user can contact Surterre or an agent directly from the application. We also include access to native applications such as maps so users can get directions to properties or Surterre offices with the click of a button.
- Gestures and animations
We’ve included the ability for users to activate features with touch events and gestures, such as slide to access the site navigation menu or to advance through property photos and/or details. We also use animations on page transitions to give users more of a native feel when using the application over the mobile web.
- Slide out menu navigation (see right)
Providing a slide out menu has become more or less of a standard for navigating through a mobile app. The Surterre mobile application has one which allows the user to quickly move from one page to another within the application, and it is accessible from any page in the application. Plus, it provides the ability to expand the application’s content over time.
In addition to location, we are also using other information provided by the device to aid in property and open house searches. Context is a critical piece of mobile design, and one we plan to use more in future revisions.
We are still in “pre-launch” mode, but the early results have been very positive. We are seeing strong usage numbers, and engagement statistics such as bounce rate, pages/visit, and time on site are well ahead of the numbers from their previous mobile solution. Surterre Properties is also reporting a dramatic increase in the number of leads being generated. The initial numbers indicate an 8-10x improvement.
We’re working with Surterre on an official launch to the public and their agent team. We plan to work closely with them to present the application at office meetings, perform in-person training sessions for agents, provide Surterre-specific support materials, and create a Surterre-specific newsletter to highlight important features of the application and use cases. We have found that the agents are the most effective marketing and promotion vehicle for our client’s applications and that investing the effort pays off in increased usage and lead generation. It’s the most cost-effective way to generate the best return on the investment in the application development, and we expect it to further enhance the initial results we’ve experienced.
Future goals and direction
We plan to continue working closely with Surterre Properties to evolve and add features to the mobile application. Given how mobile usage continues to grow, we want to make sure their mobile presence keeps up with the growing expectations of their clients and provides them with a best-in-class mobile experience. Here are a few of the features that are in the planning stages:
- Packaging for native distribution
The native design of the application will allow us to package it for distribution in the application stores for iOS and Android. It will also allow us to incorporate additional features by accessing device properties that are not available through the browser.
- Improved property searching
We are working on mapping functionality so users can search for and view properties using a map interface. We’re also looking to add lifestyle search functionality such as commute time searches, which are important for the often congested Southern California freeways!
- More context awareness
Doing more context analysis by combining device information with the user’s site interaction to aid in property recommendations, open house searches, site navigation, and more.
- Incorporation of video
Video has become an important part of the real estate search experience, whether it is virtual tours, neighborhood overviews, or company information. We want to make sure that the video library that Surterre has developed is available on both desktop and mobile devices.
As we incorporate these and other features, our overall goal for the application will remain the same – to effectively represent Surterre Properties and their commitment to the highest levels of quality and service that their clients have come to expect from them.
Check out the Surterre Properties mobile application by opening the browser on your iPhone or Android device and going to http://www.surterreproperties.com. You will be “auto-magically” directed to the mobile application and can start searching for properties in Orange County, view their agent roster and individual agent profiles, learn more about Surterre Properties, or contact them for more information.
One of my favorite writers covering the mobile space, Kevin Tofel at Gigaom, discovered a new Chrome experiment last night that lets you explore J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle-Earth fantasy kingdom in “A Journey Through Middle Earth“.
What I love about these “experiments” is that it shows the power of the web and what’s possible using web-based standards. The beauty is that the site works across platforms, meaning I can view the site on a desktop, tablet, and a mobile device and get the same experience.
We will undoubtedly continue to see significant advances in web technologies that continue to close the gap between web and native applications. If you check out the app above on your phone, you will notice some of the inherent limitations in web graphics (how they were done is explained here), but if you compare it to the quality of web graphics on a mobile device from a year ago, it’s come a long way.
I’m also convinced that these Google experiments are part of their ultimate goal of combining Android and Chrome under the Chrome OS. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see a phone (and tablet) with Chrome as its primary operating system. Android apps will run in an emulation environment within the OS, similar to what BlackBerry is doing in OS10. I view Google’s recent announcement of ART, a new Android runtime that was released with KitKat, as the underpinnings of this new emulation environment that will come to Chrome.
Google’s latest Chromium “experiment” is just another reason why we focus our efforts on developing for the mobile web. In my view, it creates superior and longer lasting value for our customers than developing for the closed ecosystems of iOS, Android, Windows Phone and others.
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!