The Existential Questions in Real Estate Search: What Do People Want?

Just before Thanksgiving, ace Redfin product manager & superblogger Matt Goyer asked for your advice on how we could make it easier for our search site visitors to add filters on stuff like price, bedrooms and bathrooms to their queries. We offered a $250 prize for the best suggestion. One intrepid designer suggested displaying the filter on bedrooms and bathrooms alongside the search box; a second design was modeled after Craigslist, and a third simply showed a “More Options” link alongside the search box. One person called to ask, “Where’s my $250?” Many people suggested focusing on the most popular filters. Which begged the question, what are the most popular filters?

Enter Michael Smedberg, our tower of analytical power, who parsed our logs on November 15, 2007 to find out what people were asking for in hundreds of thousands of queries:

  • Sex, drugs and money were not filter options and so were excluded from this analysis.
  • 36% of queries exclude condos, 3% exclude houses, while everyone else accepts the default, which shows both houses and condos.
  • 48% set a maximum price, while 25% set a minimum price.
  • 31% filter on the number of bedrooms, while 20% filter on the number of bathrooms.
  • 15% filter on interior square footage, while only 5% filter on lot size.

We won’t take away any search options, having made that mistake once already. But we will probably pop to the top the most popular options, price and the number of bedrooms. Of course I could hardly be bothered with Michael’s analysis because I spent all day in my office watching this beautiful claymation video of New York, which like our most intense emotions or favorite songs, moves at different speeds and in startling directions (qualifying it as today’s bonus link):


  • Noam Lovinsky

    To be fair (and anal), the third option does a little more than simply show the “more options” link. In my opinion, the simplest issue to fix is one of wording. Labeling the button as “Search Listings” is a little confusing. It just doesn’t sound like a command. For example, over at Google, the button is labeled “Google Search” and not “Search the Web.” At the button is labeled “Search” whereas on the label is “Web Search.” I think the main point here is that you want the text to be short, sound like a command, and be clearly connected to the search box.

    To that end, the other change that’s probably a bit tough to see in the mockup is that the search button is actually connected and part of the search form field. There’s a border that wraps them together. I think this solves the aesthetic problem you have with the third option Matt presented where there’s a search button and a text link that’s labeled “Price, Beds…” The reason that looks so awkward is that we’re not used to seeing three options next to each other in that way. The spacing between the search button and the text link makes it look like three options, but it’s really only two options: search or filter. Shortening up the search button label and connecting it to the search box makes that more clear.

    The last wording issue is how to label the filter link. Obviously, what you’re really doing here is running an Advanced Search, but who really wants to do anything “Advanced.” The wording scares people. Only geeks click “Advanced” options. It’d be interesting to find out how many people click the “Advanced Search” link over at Google. Google can label it “Advanced Search” because the regular search is plenty good for the mere mortal whereas us geeks can feel superior by using the “Advanced Search” option. Better yet, we can feel extra superior over at Google by using operators in our search query. Yahoo, on the other hand, is built for the common man and the option is labeled “Options.” This seems to be the better route for the average Redfin user, especially if you want people to click on that link more often. “More options” is just a friendly way of saying “Advanced Search.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Redfin is the Yahoo of online real estate. Redfin is most clearly the Google of online real estate. Let’s be honest…

    I apologize for the rant, but I’ve had my coffee this morning and I’m having a bit of fun with some old friends. Obviously, these opinions are just that…opinions. I’m far from a “designer” and certainly not an authority on the matter.

  • Noam Lovinsky

    By the way, I know that vertical space is precious for the search screen, but you guys should fix the padding around the search box. It feels too tight. Just saying…;-)

  • Marcelo Calbucci

    He is my answer:

    In short, the question you are asking is not the right one and you should rethink it from the ground up.

    BTW, on the last paragraph I explain how you can save $235.

  • savan kong

    Even though I’m not a designer anymore, I couldn’t help but to think about this problem while watching Memoirs of a Geisha last night with my girlfriend. She, again, mentioned to me that I’m no longer a designer and shouldn’t be moving anymore pixels around. I just laughed. But that’s neither here nor there…

    I think a great design should highlight the top things people want to filter by. Both of the designs I’m proposing expose this, though the second one does it to a lesser extent.

    Design One

    Design Two

  • Ruby Kane

    Regarding the bonus link:

    Great ad, I wish I had been there for filming to see that giant bunny.

    Seems that Boing Boing says Sony ripped it off from Kozyndan.

    kozyndan is a Los Angeles-based team of artist/illustrators known for their digitally painted pencil drawings of contemporary urban cityscapes and surreal interior spaces. Comprised of husband and wife Dan and Kozue Kitchens, kozyndan creates both fine art and commercial projects, and has been showcased internationally to much critical acclaim. [link]

  • Jina

    The search option I really would have liked to see is the ability to specify >1 bathroom, since we didn’t necessarily want two full baths but the current “1+” option turned up a lot of one-bath homes. I would also have liked the option to include or exclude townhouses specifically.

  • Glenn Kelman

    Noam, that is a very persuasive comment and I find myself in complete and total agreement, but I still think it’s fair to call your mockup “More Options.”

    Savan, I like your designs, but don’t think we should put advanced filter options two clicks away.

    Marcelo, when do you want to get lunch?

    And yes Jina we really need to do .5 baths…

    Very disappointing that no one commented on the bonus video. I watched it a few more times today, too… simply incredible!

  • savan kong

    Noam, I feel your pain. But rest assured, I can guarantee that the Redfin products, engineering and QA team has had many meetings going over the semantics behind buttons and links. It’s a delicate thing.

    G – Here’s a pitch for my design. Searching using the advance filter options is still one click. A user would have to click the “all” link instead of the “price,beds,baths” links. I guess the naming of “all” should be changed to something else that encompasses all of the search parameters.

    The purpose of the “price, beds, baths” link is two-fold. First, it’s an indicator to show that there is a way to filter their search, and is visually more discerning than a down arrow. And two, it allows for people to quickly filter their search without having to wade through all of the advance search options, which they can still get to with the “all” link.

    And lastly, I loved the video. It’s weird. I wonder what people are thinking when making clay bunny rabbits running around in NYC.

  • Jefferson Fletcher

    My stab at it…

    Here are the changes in my approach:

    1. Clear a bit more room in the header menu row to make room for the options we want to bubble up.
    –Changed “Search Listings” to simply “Search”. I think you can do without the word Listings. Users with even novice web service experience will see the Down arrow and get it. I doubt changing this text would impact usability test results much.
    –Changed “Save this Search” to simple “Save Search” and removed the e-mail icon. Again, same justification as the Search Listings text change.
    –Move Drop-down menu headers on the right side a bit closer together.

    2. Bubble up what appear to be the most common search filters: Bedrooms, Bathrooms and Max Price.
    –For Max price, truncate $100,000 and $1,000,000 to $100K and 1.0 M (et cetera with the increments).

    3. For the sake of usability, each time one of these filters is changed, the view is refreshed to reflect the change. (Are there instances where from a performance standpoint this gets too expensive?)

    And also:

    In the actual Options flyout, the ‘Close’ link by itself doesn’t add any value. It’s confusing to me that I change settings, click that link (since I’m drawn to it) and nothing happens. I actually have to click the “Search Listings” button again. I bet new users would be less confused if there was a link in there that said ‘Update’ (or something similar) and even change the ‘Close’ link to ‘Cancel’.

  • susan.brady

    While I liked the video, I am more impressed by all the wonderful energy that is going into making the site so much better for consumers; the suggestions, the samples, and Marcelo’s analysis and comments. Great stuff and Redfin is most fortunate that people care enough to take the time to brainstorm and provide feedback.

  • Roy

    I replied on Marcelo’s blog but thought I’d post here as well.
    Well said, Marcelo. If Glenn wants to raise his cost to $30, I’ll be happy to join in.

    To go a bit further, a rank formula is a bit geeky. What you really want is for users to describe their needs and the system creates a rank formula for them behind the scenes. For example, when we bought the house we currently own, our requirements included:

    3 bedrooms (yes, I mean bedrooms — we have two kids and we wanted each to have their own bedrooms)
    1 or more office rooms
    1 play room for kids
    1 “media” room
    1 guest room
    garage space for 2 cars
    yard for kids to play in

    The actual house we bought was listed as a 3-bedroom house. But two additional rooms meet the legal requirement for being a bedroom (size, egress, and ceiling height; some states also require a closet and these rooms have one). We probably saved money because the sellers didn’t list it as a 5-bedroom. One of those extra bedrooms is our office. Another is a combination tv room/media room/rec room/guest room. Notice our requirements didn’t include a living room. We got one anyway, along with a “family room” which was a play room when the kids were little and is now a gym.

    Fortunately, we used a very high-quality search engine — a realtor. She took our very human requirements and used them to sort and rank potential houses. If you can come even close to what a human realtor can do, then you’ll have something.

    I haven’t drawn a picture, but the picture is the easy part. What’s the model look like?

    P.S. on the video. Is it claymation? I thought it was computer-animated.

  • Lisa G

    I’d love to see a search option for the year a house was built. Knowing when a house was built tells you more about its style and construction than just about anything else. I’d personally love to be able to filter out all the newer homes (and I’m sure plenty of people would like to filter out older homes) when I’m searching for my dream house.

  • Glenn Kelman

    Ah LisaG, that’s just the reason we need to re-design the search options; in fact we do allow you to filter on year built. Just hit the little drop-down carrot next to the Search Listings button and you’ll find a year-built filter.