** NOTE: There will be no contest in 2009. It will return again in 2010.
Best of the Web, 2008
This Year’s Winners Excel in Innovation and Communication
Winner: Outstanding Design Feature
North Texas Real Estate Information Systems
Judges emphasized functionality over form this year, praising sites that are easy to navigate and intuitive. An outstanding example is the North Texas Real Estate Information Systems, which services 16 stakeholder Realtor® associations and their members, and logs an average of 800,000 hits per day.
“Since this seems to be the ‘hub’ for so many other associations, it allows you to come and go between this site and the affiliated sites, without losing your mind or place!” one judge noted. “It was easy to move between subjects, the cross-referencing is a simple path to follow, and I didn’t struggle to guess where something was placed.”
“I can’t see how a member couldn’t love all the attention to details,” said another judge. “Everything they need to do real estate in Texas seems to be here in this Web site!”
Uneeta Mosby-Palmer, the association’s director of corporate communications, says the new Web site displays the essence of what the association is: a real estate technology company. “Our colors—red, blue, and white—are another indication of who we are—proud Texans serving the Dallas/Fort Worth real estate community,” she says.
“There’s no way to lose your place in this site,” judges said. “There are well-thought-out steps to and from information.”
At NTREIS, their motto is “Making Your Job Easier” and they’ve built their tool around two facts: Realtor® are busy people and Realtor® associations can’t be open 24/7, says Mosby-Palmer.
Judges put the structure of the site to the test and couldn’t find even one broken link or unanticipated landing page. “I searched for various things that my own membership asks me on a consistent basis and I was able to find them all quickly,” one judge said. “This would be a great Web site for any size association or organization. Very user friendly.”
According to Mosby-Palmer, the design, layout, and organization of the site were key considerations in the planning stages. “Our team conducted a subscriber survey and found that several users were not aware of all of the NTREIS products and services, so we decided to assume that the user was being introduced to NTREIS,” she explains.
Yet, it’s not all function when it comes to winning design. “[The site is] very easy on the eyes, no harsh colors, and I like the Flash [video] on the home page. It appeals to the professional appearance that one would want to see, up-to-date and working on the cutting edge of everything. No standing still, or locked in on the ‘now,’” one judge remarked.
The site features “hot graphics,” sleek drop-down menus, and attractive icons that enhance navigation throughout the site.
Winner: Outstanding Member Service Feature
Great Time to Buy Florida
Florida Association of Realtors®
In the face of today’s pervasive negative headlines about real estate, associations are striving to reach out to consumers with the facts about homebuying and homeselling in their local markets.
Doing a winning job of equipping members with the facts—and a mountain of resources—is the Florida Association of Realtors®’ BuyNow Web site, which launched in January.
“[The site] is dedicated to the Florida Realtor® community and helping each member get the word out to buyers that now really is a great time to buy Florida real estate,” says Peggy Musial, managing editor of online content for the association. “Who in the real estate business hasn’t complained about or been adversely affected by negative press relating to all aspects of the market? We examined ways to counter those critics and decided a microsite was the best and least expensive. The positive buzz created from the National Association of Realtors®’ Good Time to Buy campaigns helped us brand our statewide promotion.”
When it comes to online member services, this site delivers with stacks of material members can pluck to use on their blogs and in their newsletters and marketing brochures. Content includes downloadable PowerPoints, research-intensive articles that are updated monthly, plus money-making strategies, financial advice, motivational tips, and educational information.
Judges found the site “ vibrant,” “current,” and “well planned and well executed.” Particularly notable was the clever and engaging use of multimedia throughout the site. Rather than using an online video that can often run slowly and require visitors to download a plug-in, the association opted for a slide show. “It was engaging like video without the slowness,” one judge noted. “The stills had better clarity than video but gave the feeling of video. Very sharp!”
According to Musial, the site’s design, colors, content, and multimedia presentations were all carefully thought out to convey an upbeat and positive mood, reflective of the local market.
The “Voices of Florida Real Estate” audio interviews with prominent members, located on the site’s home page, offer an inside scoop from industry leaders. According to Musial, the association currently has 30 taped interviews, the edited versions of which will be filtered into the site on a regular basis as audio clips and story content.
Florida members have responded very enthusiastically to the new site. “They’ve told us, ‘Finally, a place for good news,’ and we’re so glad to provide information that is inspiring,” says Musial.
WINNER: Outstanding Online Education Feature
Distance Learning On Demand Online Video Education
Wisconsin Association of Realtors®
When it comes to education, Realtors® want quick and convenient, and nothing fits the bill better than the Wisconsin Association of Realtors®’ Distance Learning On Demand program.
“A good business tool? Absolutely!” said one judge. “Realtors® are able to take their CE classes (or any other classes) on their own schedule and at any location (at home, in their office, in a hotel, etc.).”
The program also features quizzes at the end of chapters and a certificate of completion that can be printed out after all coursework is finished and the Realtor® has passed the final exam.
Coupled with an online interface that is clean, intuitive, and content-rich, this program is sure to benefit members. “This is a great tool for the membership, and by the dollar figures, they must be using the site,” one judge said.
“I think this site was well-planned-out and gives the members everything they need for education,” one judge noted. “As the state association, it is great they are leaders in the education of the real estate industry.”
“We wrote the product from the ground up internally,” says Rob Uhrina, vice president of marketing and communications. “This is not based on anyone else’s product and was designed and tested using Realtor® input.”
With new courses rolled out on a regular basis, it’s not hard to see why Uhrina feels that Distance Learning On Demand is the most convenient education option the Wisconsin association has ever offered.
Judges said the site also provided visitors with a good understanding of the type of courses being offered. “It’s easy to get lost in the information because there is lots of great detail on this site,” one judge said.
WINNER: Outstanding E-Newsletter or Publication
The Nor’easter, The Northeast Association of Realtors®, Mass.
Highly praised for its likeness to a print newsletter while exemplifying the trademark ease of an online publication, the 1,500-member Northeast Association of Realtors® (NEAR), Mass., entry beat out other online entires that were less like a traditional publication put online online and more like a distinct publication Web site.
“It’s very clear that it is a newsletter,” said one judge. “It’s formatted and feels like a newsletter, obviously for Realtors®.”
In an effort to save time and resources (both environmental and administrative), the NEAR went from a hard-copy newsletter to an online-only, interactive PDF version in May 2007. “Our members and affiliates really enjoy having a full-color newsletter that contains interactive features,” says Maria Emrick, events and marketing coordinator. Although the transition has been difficult for the less tech-savvy members, the association does offer to mail a hard copy of the newsletter to anyone who requests it.
Though the design is decidedly low-tech (no bells and whistles here), the publication is very attractive, professional and excels in the areas of usability and readability, judges noted. Members seem to agree; the association reports getting 638 clicks per month.
“I like the nice graphic header that changes each month reflecting the season, and the consistency of color scheme in each issue is also attractive,” one judge said.
“The layout is varied like a print magazine with a nice color palette. The order of information is consistent from month to month,” remarked another judge.
Judges especially liked the content links that enabled readers to get the information they wanted without having to scroll through the entire newsletter.
Two other notable details are the hyperlinks to newsletter advertisers’ sites from their ads as well as the easy access to newsletter archives.
Judges said, “Overall, an excellent job, especially considering just one staff member works on this newsletter.”
WINNER: Outstanding Property Search Feature
Houston Association of Realtors®
No Realtor® wants to direct his or her clients to an online property search that will confuse and frustrate. That’s why the ease of use of the Houston Association of Realtors®’ property search stands out.
“Navigation couldn’t get much easier,” noted one judge. “It was easy to find all the information, and you can save the property in your shopping cart and continue to search through the site. ‘Home’ is clearly visible at the top of every page.”
“The site is professional looking, the colors are soft and not flashy, and, best of all, it is not consumed with advertising,” another judge reflected.
Marrying ease of use with depth of functionality isn’t easy, but this site achieves this critical balance with a multitude of features. “[Visitors] can customize their searches, contact the agent by e-mail, broker by phone, or the site administrator for feedback. They can save their searches in the shopping cart and return later or compare the properties,” one judge noted.
The HAR.com property search integrates Microsoft Virtual Earth, which provides detailed, high-resolution satellite-image mapping—available with aerial, bird’s eye, and 3-D options—so that visitors can examine fine details of most properties and the surrounding area from multiple angles and distances. It also enables property searches based on proximity to schools, hospitals, and police and fire stations, as well as businesses, such as supermarkets, restaurants, and banks. Traditional property option searches are also available with the use of drop-down menus.
An additional feature allows visitors to highlight a particular section of a map, called a polygon, if they have a specific neighborhood, subdivision, or area of town in mind. Properties that meet the criteria will be displayed with colored “pushpins” that reveal detailed information, including enlargeable photos.
“I personally liked the ‘make a flyer’ button,” one judge said, “because that feature would allow me to print a one-page hard copy that I could refer to without having to go online to view the listing data.”
“The new search engine includes a listing of foreclosed properties, a feature that has grown in interest among prospective homebuyers in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis,” says Houston CEO Bob Hale. “HAR.com also displays detailed tax information for every property in the greater Houston and surrounding area.”
Accommodating the tremendously diverse ethnic population in Houston, text within the site is available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, French, German, and Italian.
“This is an excellent way to help the members make money—providing the public the avenue to search the members’ listings and contact the members directly through the association’s public MLS,” a judge said.
NO ASSOCIATION WEBSITE CONTEST IN 2009
The Best of the Web is on hiatus until 2010. In 2009, REALTOR AE Magazine will explore association blogs. If you have a blog you'd like us to feature, send it to Carolyn Schwaar at firstname.lastname@example.org