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By Joe Burns

Concern #2: I clicked on "Destin Hot Properties" and got this property:

Design Image

OK, here's where I started to run into things I disliked. What I got here was a picture and a description. The picture was taken from too far away and the scan is blurry. That's a concern right there.

Suggestion: The entire site makes a statement about the team that made it. In this case, it's a realtor named Lomax. Nowadays there are many great cameras for not a lot of money that will take stunning, clear photos. The same goes for scanners. Get a good one. Spend the money and get a decent image-editing program. I do all of my work on the full version of Paint Shop Pro. Most people like Photoshop. A crisp image will say volumes about your site and your commitment to it. The bigger problem isso will a bad image. Pay special attention to your images. THEY are your product.

Concern #3: I'm still on the image and description of the house. This is little more than I can get out of the newspaper or by fax from the agent.

Suggestion: Here is where the Web can shine in real estate. I should be able to walk through this house. Show me the rooms, the backyard, the ocean view, and the ceiling. Show me the best parts of the house, and the worst; show me what I want to see.

Concern #4: Show me the money! I have never understood this about any form of advertising. Why would you not put the price in the ad? My guess is because the seller is concerned about sticker shock. If that's the case, what good is it to get someone's hopes up and then hit them with the price in person? Doing that simply wastes time.

Suggestion: By putting the price out there, you narrow your possible buying audience by eliminating those who cannot afford it. I've purchased three houses now. Each time, the realtor knew my price range and knew I wouldn't be looking at a $500,000 house when my upper limit is nowhere near that. A survey of Web users blatantly proves that people want to see prices on e-business sites. Use the Web to make the sale. Give me the price. Don't use the Web simply to bait me and then drop a half-million dollar bomb on me when you know I only make a professor's salary. If I know the prices up front, then I can limit our time together to only those houses I like and can afford. That just seems logical to me.

Concern #5: I'm going to stay on the money for just one more thing here. Look at the screen capture of the house one more time. There's a calculator there. It asks the user to figure out the mortgage payments. Number one, the link doesn't work. Number two, I have no way of figuring the mortgage because I don't have any numbers to play with, such as the asking price for the house.

Suggestion: Either offer me the information I need to calculate my mortgage, or lose the link. I bought my first house before I became interested in the Internet, but the next two were bought using mortgage calculators on the Web. I had a list of payment plans when I went bank shopping. I knew the approximate costs before I sat down in front of a loan officer. I believe that I got my great deals because I had the numbers. I was educated and couldn't be quickly talked into a higher amount.

Overall: Real estate can absolutely shine on the Web. What you have here is a great skeleton where you can hang all kind of good stuff. Spend the money and get a good digital camera. Take pictures of every room in the house. Walk me through it. Give me a price. Tell me the current interest rates. Let me use an amortization calculator to figure my payments. Give me a printable tear sheet with all the information I'll need. That way I have already done my shopping. When I call you, I have a short list of houses I know I like and I know I can afford. You're a breath away from the sale.

The Web did most of the work.

That's that.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

Always Remember: When it comes to designing your Web site, the most important person is not you, but your user.

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