Barfoot & Thompson have a new (well relatively new) iPad application out to help people find their next house in New Zealand. It is crisp and clean and has some very nice features. It’s been selected as a finalist in the Designers Institute Best Design Awards 2013 and I’m sure it will do well. Here’s my review.
It opens up showing your current location on a map with properties in your proximity, if you have allowed it to know your location using the GPS on your iPad. This is interesting even if you’re not looking to buy in your neighbourhood because you can get an idea of what’s for sale and perhaps how your property value may be faring.
Tap on one of the map pins and you will see a photo of the house and tap on the picture and you go into the property screen, where you can scroll through photos and information. I’ll come back to that.
I was surprised that they haven’t done an iPhone app, nor an Android app, but they do have a website optimised for mobile. More people have mobiles than tablets and a lot of people have Androids today. Personally I would have gone for a responsive website rather than a mobile specific one, but that’s just my opinion.
There is a potential fatal flaw here. Most iPads do not have SIM cards. This means that unless they have another means of connecting to the Internet, such as tethering to a mobile, or WiFi, then a lot of the location based features fail. This is another reason why I would have an iPhone version. It would need to be rewritten for the form factor, whereas if they had started with an iPhone app, you can always use that on an iPad as well.
The User Interface is nice, but the experience will vary based on your knowledge of apps. There are lots of hidden gems that you might have to stumble over in order to find them. I would like to see an FAQ or even a tutorial to make sure that people don’t miss out on valuable information that could influence their next step.
When you search for a Suburb, Listing ID, or Keyword (and I’m not going to get pedantic about upper and lower case:) the result is very smart, similar to using Google Maps, but you wouldn’t know it from the header.
You can search by number e.g. 119 and it will show you listings starting with that number. If you enter a suburb, you will first see properties in that suburb, but if you don’t scroll down, you might not realise you can also view suburbs, schools and find the nearest Barfoot & Thompson Branch. If you select School, it will show you the location of the school you select. As I said, hidden gems.
The Property Filter feature is elegant, I really like it. It is smooth and intuitive. Save or Apply and go explore.
I didn’t find the book marking functionality as user friendly. It’s obvious when you select it, that it is a book mark, but if you forget you have used it and are looking at a map, you may wonder where all the listings went. That’s because it’s only showing properties on the map that you have bookmarked and if you haven’t bookmarked any yet, then you won’t see any properties at all. Logical, but logic and user friendliness aren’t always the same thing.
The listings themselves are full of nuggets and you need to try all the buttons at the top to find out what they do. It’s also obvious that some agents put a lot more effort into providing information than others.
Titirangi buyers for example may find a lot more information than in some othe suburbs, for example, one property I looked at had a LIM Report, Title and more. There were photos, floor plans and even Google Street View.
When there are Open Homes, there is an Open Home Reminder, which lets you choose from available Open Homes and put your selection straight into your calendar, so you won’t forget.
The arrow on the right hand side at the top lets you email the property details to yourself or someone else, complete with a “Try the App” option. If you have AirPrint, you can print straight from your device at home, even if you’re not there, I like that! You can also select the Agent and get their details as well as other listings they are personally managing. Finally you can “enquire” which will open up your email and allow you to send an email request to the agent.
So what’s missing? As I said up top, a tutorial would be good, it could be FAQ’s or a video walk through. As IT people, we often assume that users are more experienced than they really are. Many people I know will get frustrated and abandon the app, or wish it had features that it does in fact have. The good thing is that Barfoot will be getting at least weekly reports on downloads, upgrades and usage and even where it is being used most.
Points of Interest would be an easy addition. I know schools are important (if you have kids) but as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, things like Shopping, Food, Health Services and Public Transport are also important and easy to get from the Google API’s. Google now even offers real time traffic information on their maps. Imagine if you could see that in real time to see what traffic is like in the neighbourhood right now, or when you are planning to go and look at the property.
I don’t expect demographics, at least before the 2013 Census is out. But wouldn’t it be cool if you could get some information about the people in the area and find out if they are like you?
Getting around Open Homes can be a chore and I often seem to find an agent (not talking about Barfoot here) that doesn’t have a great sense of direction. A route planner would be very cool and that would be an award winning feature imho.
I was also surprised to not see any social media links in the app. I would have thought that the ability to share a property for sale with family and friends via Facebook and Twitter at least would have been a big plus. Word of Mouth is an important and social media is a free marketing tool.
All in all, I really do like the app and congratulate Barfoot on creating it. They have set a standard that realtors will have to equal or better. It is not only useful for people in New Zealand, but also for expats and people thinking of coming from overseas. It isn’t the only app on the block, but his review is just about them.
Location based or general notifications would be great for the serious home buyer. You could set your criteria of price and features, maybe a timeframe when you are open to be notified. You might be looking in Browns Bay, but there could be an amazing property in a totally different part of Auckland, where you happen to be driving on a Saturday afternoon that you would never have considered. You could have an alert for Open Homes near your real time current location, again based on the saved criteria of price, bedrooms etc that you are looking for.
What other features would I like to see? Watch out for more blogs here and also for the eBook on using Location Based Services to buy real estate, which is a few weeks away. The following eBook will be for vendors.
In the meantime, if you have an iPad, try the app out and leave a comment on this blog to tell me what you think of it.