As society increasingly demands inclusivity, there’s an ever-present need for web accessibility across all industries and cultures. And that means barrier-free access to the online world, including real estate websites.
From a business standpoint, building digitally accessible real estate sites is important to maintain a seamless, legally compliant online property sale or buying experience for anyone. This approach can help prevent costly lawsuits for non-compliance and broaden your user base to include over one billion people with disabilities. But at a core human level and as a social responsibility of every business with an online presence, web accessibility is simply the right, ethical choice.
Let’s quickly investigate what web accessibility means on a fundamental level.
What is Web Accessibility?
In a nutshell, web accessibility allows any online user to experience a website barrier-free, regardless of any disabilities or impairments they may have. The CDC indicates that just over a quarter of Americans have some form of disability, which translates into a substantial potential buyer and seller market in an industry like real estate.
If over 60 million Americans have a form of disability and want to purchase or sell a home. Title III of the American Disability Act (ADA) justly designates any business websites, real estate included, as a public commercial space that must accommodate all online users with equal access.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) does not provide a standardized, legal definition of just how to create an accessible real estate website, or any website, based on the ADA. Conformance to WCAG guidelines is considered the “gold standard” for creating an accessible website, and is most commonly referenced by the DOJ. Website users with disabilities often depend on assistive technologies, and the structure, user interface (UI), navigation, and format of content should be created in a way that allows assistive technologies to process and relay information to individuals with numerous disabilities or impairments.
Why Should Commercial Real Estate Websites Be Accessible?
In 2016, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) warned its members about ADA compliance after receiving threatening legal letters. In December 2017 The NAR even wrote a letter to the DOJ requesting guidelines and standards to help ensure accessibility of real estate agent websites. As it becomes more apparent that digital experiences are here to stay, it’s critical now more than ever to take action and make changes in the industry.
Let’s think about the context of a home buyer with disabilities. They would likely be looking for a property that is in itself accessible and accommodating of their needs. Why should buying or selling a property online be any less of an accessible experience? Real estate websites that are not fully accessible for people with disabilities could face steep fines for not complying with the ADA and WCAG in alienating a considerable demographic, with the potential to damage brand reputation.
Real Estate Sites & Statistics on Today’s Online Home Buyer
The 2022 National Association of Realtors report shares that nearly 50% home buyers in the United Start start their process online, and 96% will get online at some point in their search and buying journey. The NAR also indicates that most homeowners find their properties online, with 51% of them locating their properties on the web.
The 2023 NARS Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report indicates that for 90% of buyers surveyed under the age of 57, images were the most useful feature on real estate sites, and detailed information regarding each property was also a critical element. These insights clearly underpin the importance of creating an accessible real estate site for those with visual and other disabilities or impairments. The same report also shared that 49% of home buyers that searched for a home online followed it up with a physical walk-through of the home prior to directly inquiring with a real estate brokerage representative or agent about the property.
When surveyed regarding the location of home buyers during online real estate searches in the same aforementioned 2023 NARS report, the response showed a 50/50 split, with half performing their search on desktop or laptop computers, and the other half via mobile devices. Compare that data to statistics that indicate nearly 60% of people with disabilities live in a household with internet access, and the same source shared that over 60% of adults with disabilities own a computer, and over 70% own a smartphone.
It’s yet again clear that online home buyers or sellers with disabilities are a sizable potential market, and real estate sites should and must be accessible. Commercial real estate websites that are not inclusive will ultimately frustrate home buyers or sellers with disabilities or impairments, as the internet has become an integral tool for both the search and sale of property.
Buying a home is arguably one of the most critical, and at times, one of the most stressful experiences and purchases a person can make. Add in the critical element of using the web at whatever stage of the buying or selling process with an inaccessible real estate brokerages’ website, and poor UX for any home seller or buyer is bound to compound frustration.
Real estate brokerages’ customers want to be assured they can trust and navigate a website, whether searching for residential or commercial properties, or in selling or leasing them. A real estate agent website has to instill consumer trust to elevate brand reputation and online presence, in turn, expanding target audience reach considerably, while preventing legal concerns and issues.
It’s time to learn some basics for building an accessible, compliant site.
Solutions for an Accessible Real Estate Website
How do you make your site digitally accessible and compliant? Real agent estate website owners can also look at using various forms of accessibility tools that can support WCAG compliance. Conducting an accessibility audit could be a good starting point to identify violations and acquire remediation tips to meet WCAG guidelines. U.S. courts have ordered companies on the losing end of lawsuits to meet WCAG 2.1 AA compliance, its second-highest accessibility standard.
Automated scanners can help streamline accessibility testing, as you select the pages and templates that will make sure any content additions or updates conform to compliance standards and requirements. The process for using the tool is as easy as entering a URL, as the solution then reviews the real estate site map to help you identify which pages require scanning.
According to WCAG guidelines, any digital assets made on commercial real estate websites should conform to web accessibility standards, including documents in PDF or MS Word format. Real estate brokerages can ensure any of their online documents comply with digital accessibility standards and guidelines of the ADA, WCAG, and PDF/UA with the quick and simple use of a wizard that takes you through every step of the process.
So, where do you go from here?
Tips & Adjustments to Help Make Real Estate Sites Accessible
Low-contrast colors can make it hard for people with vision-related disabilities to read website text. While this isn’t imperative for the use of assistive technologies, it’s become common practice and standard that substantial color contrast of text and background can be a game-changer for individuals who are blind or vision impaired.
Selection of Fonts & Sizes
Naturally, bigger fonts are easier to see for people with related disabilities, and the ability to adjust font type or size can be simple and a matter of just a click when integrating a web accessibility widget on real estate sites. In addition to size, you can also choose dyslexia-friendly fonts that specifically accommodate people with this and other conditions.
Integrate Intuitive UX
If your website is challenging to navigate and understand, it becomes an even more difficult process to comprehend the insights a real estate site presents to people with cognitive disabilities. The latest assistive tech tools will make your site more enjoyable and effective for all end users. Set up intuitive menu options with parent and child pages, dropdown navigation options, responsive UI, and ensure all of the headings, form fields, and links are clearly formatted for ease of keyboard navigation and an inclusive UX.
Simplify Your Language
Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations that make it difficult for people with cognitive disabilities to understand your site’s information. This will generally improve your user experience for website visitors of every ability. As well, when screen readers and assistive technologies scan your website content to then translate it into speech or braille, simple, straightforward language makes better chances of messages being relayed with accuracy.
Captions for Video Content
While captioning of video content is a go-to best practice for web accessibility and ensures an engaging and insightful user experience for individuals with hearing impairments or disabilities like deafness, closed captioning can also be helpful to someone who prefers reading the narrative of a video with the sound off. Captions also give users the option to slow down the speed of the video so they can read at their own pace.
Alt Text for Visual Content
Innovative real estate sites and real estate brokerages with websites will include a range of visuals to engage online users – from images, to video, and even virtual tours of properties. Providing an inclusive user experience to anyone who is visually impaired or disabled offers a better indication of property features, and even explains or describes the immersive experience of a virtual tour. All online users can gain a better sense of the physical space and amenities of a property. Writing descriptive, clear, and accurate alt text to provide a good indication of what the visuals present can be critical for inclusive engagement.
To gain a better understanding of how to write alt text, you can reference our blog on image alt text best practices.
Overall Compatibility with Assistive Technologies
When your real estate site implements the aforementioned tips and best practices, consider adopting an accessibility widget that can help ensure your real estate website is compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers, braille displays, and keyboard navigation. This allows website owners to provide multifaceted accessibility with minimal code cost-effectively. An accessibility widget can enable easy adjustment of everything from font and size, to color contrast, pausing animation of graphics or automated streaming of video, and even offers a screen reader built in.
UserWay & Web Accessibility for Real Estate Sites
UserWay’s AI-Powered Widget is designed to empower website owners with a simple way to create inclusive online user experiences, and it can help real estate sites conform to web compliance standards and requirements. With over one million installations on websites globally, UserWay’s Widget is used by industry-leading organizations in diverse industries everywhere.
Start with a free trial or one-on-one consultation with a UserWay accessibility expert.
Answers to Common FAQs
What Should a Real Estate Website Include?
Unless you specialize in a particular niche or discipline of real estate, standard real estate your site should include features, pages and sections that are best practice in the industry and listing website, from “about us” profiling your team leaders and providing background info on your agency, to other elements that can enhance user experience.
- Advanced search capabilities
- Map locating functionality
- Responsive user interface
- Community/neighborhood guides
- Photos and videos
- Contact forms
- Mobile compatibility
How do I create an accessible real estate site?
Follow the WCAG guidelines that are considered the gold standard for web accessibility and compliance, and you’re on a steady path to providing an inclusive user experience to site visitors of your real estate site. Real estate brokerages can also help mitigate potential legal risk with an accessible website in performing both automated and manual web accessibility testing and adopting various accessibility solutions that can scan, monitor and check websites for accessibility violations, while also guiding fixes or even automating remediations.
How can a real estate agent website provide an inclusive UX to anyone?
Over and above the use of web accessibility solutions, testing, and following WCAG guidelines, commercial real estate sites can help ensure inclusivity with alt text for visuals, color contrast of fonts and backgrounds, clear and simple text and descriptions to ensure they’re accessible to individuals with cognitive disabilities and impairments, or those using assistive technologies like screen readers or braille displays.