Let’s talk about power search. Redfin currently offers over thirty ways to filter your search, but it seems that no matter how many options we provide, there will always be someone out there who wants more.
Here’s a sampling of the kinds of emails we regularly receive in our Tech Support inbox:
- “I would like to suggest adding a filter for places that except dogs.”
- “A check box for homes with and without a pool would make the tool that much better.”
- “Can you please add a selection for number of Stories with a Minimum & Maximum.”
- “Please add a Master on Main option.”
- “It would be great if you could automatically filter based on a minimum school score.”
- “Please add an option to search by dollars per square foot ($/sq.ft.).”
- “It would be greatly beneficial for me to have an option to filter by accepted financing options.”
Dang. That’s a lot of search options.
These are all great ideas, and we would love to be able to add every one of them to our site. Of course, adding a new search feature is never as easy as simply putting a new checkbox or dropdown in the search options dialog. For every new search option we add, we need to normalize the relevant data across over two dozen MLSes, re-layout the search options dialog to fit the new option, add the relevant data to the optimized search tables, and actually code the new search option user interface.
Even so, isn’t it worthwhile to spend that time if it makes our site better and gives the users what they want? Absolutely it would be… But is “more search options” really what most users want?
While many users write in to say that they want this or that new search filter, I wanted to know just how often users are actually using the current options we provide. To that end, I asked my esteemed colleague Dane Brandon to engage his mad Hive / Hadoop skillz to pull a million rows of search query data from Apache logs of user activity on Redfin.com stored in the Cassandra file system.
After a few hours of cleaning, formatting, and pivot-tabling the resulting csv in Excel, I had my answer.
The results were clear: despite the daily requests we get for new features, the vast majority of users on our site rarely use the advanced search features that we already provide. In fact, only one search option was used in more than half of searches: maximum price at 61.2% of searches.
Here’s what the full breakdown looks like for all of the property feature filters we offer (note that our recently-released HOA dues search option is missing because I did this analysis before we added that option):
Notice that the only other options that appeared in more than 25% of searches were minimum beds (34.7%), and minimum price (25.1%)—all options that appear “above the fold” in the search box. Minimum baths (21.4%) and minimum square footage (15.8%) each also had decent showings, while everything else fell well below 10%, and over half of the filter options didn’t even crack five percent of searches.
Even more surprising was that just over half of user searches aren’t even limited to a specific region (e.g. city, neighborhood, zip code, or county):
One could conceivably argue that the low usage of our more advanced features is a UI problem, and that if the search dialog were better designed, perhaps more users would discover and use these options, but from my own personal experience and what I’ve heard from other serious home shoppers, I believe that most people just want to see all the homes for sale, and avoid using filters because they’d rather not risk missing out on a home that might be close enough to what they’re looking for.
So does this mean that we’ll be removing power search options and turning Redfin into a Fisher-Price®-inspired simplistic real estate search? Not a chance. However, hopefully it does explain why we decide to prioritize other new features with broader impact like Instant Updates, Home Price Tool, and Open Book above adding new search options.