Building a real estate startup
It is my goal to share the triumphs and agony (and trust me… there is agony) I encounter while navigating the daily challenges of a start-up in the real estate industry. We are developing our own application to provide a better user experience to NuHabitat clients. As you might guess, we are on a limited budget.
I want to share a few of the issues we have dealt with in getting to where we are today.
Challenge one: beta app
My first milestone was to develop our VOW beta app. This would show proof of concept on several different levels and it would demonstrate our ability to produce a web application that replicated our entire MLS database. That is no easy task. We would also provide registered users with data they had not previously accessed unless provided by their agent. Days on market, historical price data and sold data is what I want to deliver to our clients. To some this seemed like a daunting task. To others, I guess it is no big deal.
While exchanging comments on a blog the other day, Russ Bergon, CEO of MRED said, “IDX v VOW. Again sounds good on paper. Years ago here in Chicago we add nearly 2000 VOW sites because of opt in versus opt out. IDX opt ins were at about 30% Today we have a handful of VOWs. Why? Because consumers did not want to register to see listings and we are now at near 100 percent opted in to IDX.”
Where are they now? Had I known, I would have just bought one on the cheap! That is an amazing statistic to me.
Challenge two: RETS
We are utilizing RETS, the Real Estate Transaction Standard. In simple terms, RETS was supposed to be developed to help standardize the delivery of real estate data and simplify development of real estate software. The problem is, to date, RETS has not accomplished its stated goal (to the best of my knowledge), however, they are making substantial progress.
One of the toughest issues we faced in working with the protocol was having no real instruction. My developers said documentation is poor. It may exist out there but we were not aware of it. I reached out to several different professionals for guidance. No assistance was offerred from our MLS on how to code what we needed. We spoke with Mark Lesswing at NAR and he did his best to help. We called several consultants. For the most part, we were flying blind. The good news is that we were able to get past several issues with our data and things started to fall into place.
Challenge three: consumers’ real needs
From here it was necessary to determine what feature set to include in our beta release. With search at the core, we needed to decide if we should just create a simple search or have an advanced search as well? I have read blogs that question why the heck we have both simple and advanced search. Why not just one search? I kind of agree with that and think it is worth consideration. Do consumers use simple search differently than advanced? Is there a needed distinction between the two? I’m looking forward to the A/B testing we will create to answer this question.
Challenge four: moving pieces
Other considerations include the need for a a blog. You’re probably asking who would have a real estate site without a blog? I think you would be surprised. What about a twitter feed? A way to provide feedback? A contact us page? These are the things we needed to create a successful minimally viable product.
Some of you may think differently, but our goal was to get a unique search product operational and on the internet for consumer use. Call it a “Field of Dreams” if you want, but I believe that if you build it, they will come …IF you have a better value proposition. In the first month, we have over 500 registrations and over 2,000 unique visitors. All this for a no-name beta product that just wants to get consumers the data they are looking for – I was pleased with the initial consumer reaction.
Following the development of core search, we are now faced with what to tackle next. The obvious features are map search and user profiles. There are challenges here as well and creating a unique map experience won’t be easy. Should we use Google maps, or Bing, or maybe even a different map? Believe it or not, there are other options. Do we use clusters or splatter the map with the maximum number of pins allowed? We will also include geo-location, specific boundaries and maybe even light box displays. I sure would like some statistical information on what map interface provides the best user experience.
Then there are user profiles to consider. This is where we are able to allow a user to create and save their user preferences, but more importantly, allows for us to begin tailoring the user experience. It may be customary for many sites to create profiles, but I believe in terms of creating a “sticky” user experience and keeping your clients engaged on a real estate application provided by a brokerage, you must provide a value proposition that keeps your clients checking in frequently. This will be our version of drip marketing, except the goal is to bring the clients back to me rather than always pushing to them.
We are still creating our basic user experience, but in my opinion this is the most critical element, because these are the things that users expect to be right. They expect accurate, timely data. They expect results to be fast. Lacking those fundamental qualities, you will immediately lose them to any other site, and there are plenty of them, so yours better be good.