There is no shortage of real estate search sites, from the big boys over at realtor.com all the way down to a lone agent’s IDX site in a small town. There is also no shortage of apps aimed at making the home buying process easier, ranging from electronic signature apps (which are useful) to one-off mortgage calculators.
In that environment, it is hard to stand out, as these apps tend to blur together. But our ears perked up when realtycloud launched a new app with a big red shiny “buy” button. For years, it has been said that consumers will never buy a home online, but realtycloud disagrees.
How realtycloud gets things done
But what is fascinating is that instead of simply offering real estate search and adding a “buy” button, they’ve integrated a suite of third party apps to make it legitimately possible:
- Home Junction to provide MLS or property data directly into an online contract
- DocuSign to electronically sign all contracts & addendum’s
- Mitek’s Mobile Deposit™ to deposit funds directly into an online escrow account
- TitleVest Services LLC for integrated title & settlement services
- Stripe for payment processing
They say the app is a “safe, simple and efficient way to execute real estate contracts for home purchases.” They explain that they’ve “mobilized” this complex process to nix paper.
“Today, the mobile realty solutions available lack integration making if very challenging for buyers to use a single mobile app to expedite the entire real estate transaction,” said Paul Doughty, Founder & CEO of realtycloud. “We integrated the best solutions into a single app that makes it easy for buyers to navigate through the home purchasing process from their mobile devices. Our next version will incorporate additional Partner capabilities, and other platforms, bringing together the transactional process even further.”
Is this a threat to real estate practitioners?
The realtycloud app is now available for a user in any state to quickly make an offer on a property. Users in Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas will have full functionality allowing for the execution of purchase & sales agreements along with other integrated capabilities. The company anticipates rolling out this full functionality app in other states in the near future.
They indicate that more apps are to come to help the transaction process, and it is a tool that sounds threatening to agents, but will be embraced as one of many tools in the practitioner’s tool belt. This proves that the agent’s value proposition is not in the transaction, but in getting consumers to the transaction with the best negotiated deal possible.
MRED among the first to syndicate green home info to real estate portals
For years, real estate practitioners have pushed for green data entry fields in the MLS, and the next evolution is the MLSs syndicating this data to the major portals. As consumers increasingly desire energy efficient homes, this is money in the bank, friends.
With consumers becoming increasingly aware of energy efficiency of their homes, and studies are consistently showing that green features are appealing to homebuyers, real estate practitioners have been on the forefront of the movement. For years, agents and brokers have pushed for data fields in the MLS that reflect the green options available in homes – solar panels, Energy Star appliances, charging stations for electric vehicles, native landscaping, shade control, grey water systems, rainwater cisterns, low E windows, high quality insulation, and so forth.
The next evolution in this green-ification of our homes is being able to search for a home based on those preferences. MRED (Midwest Real Estate Data) is Chicago’s MLS, the largest in the nation, and they’ve just announced that they will be syndicating green and energy related information to realtor.com and Homes.com to increase the availability of green data. As of publication, we have not been able to verify which MLS was the first to syndicate this type of data, but MRED is among the first, if not the first.
Half of all Millennials believe buying a green home makes them a better person
Green data isn’t trendy, it’s not a hipster concern, it’s something that generations have been brought up to care about. Consider this – in a recent study, three out of five Millennials state that reusing old materials in their home improvement projects is important, half said that going green with their homes made them better people, and 41 percent say they already live a “green” lifestyle.
Further, this generation inherently understands that green features in a home increase the value, and other generations are on board with the green movement too. The real estate industry is responding appropriately, and with MRED’s move to increase the visibility of this data, we anticipate a ripple effect of green data syndication.
Consumers are keen to be green
In a statement, MRED said, “Consumers today are demanding greater access to this information to make more environmentally informed choices about homes to purchase. Brokers having this information available on their listings helps to promote the sale of those properties. Specifically, data regarding the Green Features of homes and energy/green ratings, available in homes listed in MRED’s MLS system, is now displayed on two of the most visited real estate sites in the country.”
“MRED sets the standard for MLSs in many ways,” said MRED President/Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Jensen. “We’ve challenged ourselves to step up and lead the way on Green and energy information as well. This is a great benefit to our own real estate professionals, but I’m proud that this is also a public service for the many consumers interested in Chicagoland real estate.”
“Providing practical assistance to our real estate professionals is one of our highest priorities at MRED,” said Jeff Lasky, Director of Communications and Training. “Rebecca Jensen has made clear to me her strong commitment to providing more and better Green and Energy information to our real estate professionals, and through them to the consumer. This information being displayed on Realtor.com and Homes.com is just the start. Everybody wins.”
Common User Experience (UX) mistakes that real estate search sites and apps make (and how to fix them)
While many in the real estate industry think that a successful User Experience (UX) is something that is sleek and sexy, it is so much more. Once our industry understands these most common mistakes, search and real estate sites will improve. Finally.
In our industry we make a big deal about having the “best data” but, as has been proven over the past few years by a number of websites and apps, consumers value something even more: a great user experience. Nonetheless, the typical user experience in our industry is awful. This gets pointed out in articles now and then, but rarely is there specific discussion about how to improve it.
That’s why Clareity Consulting suggests budgeting for user experience experts in its software evaluation engagements, and clients are increasingly taking heed. This is also why we invited Yossi Langer, a user experience expert from Iteration Group, to speak at our annual MLS Executive Workshop in 2015. There we looked specifically at common failures in creating great user experience in real estate search, why these failures happens, and what can be done about them. At the Workshop, we reviewed concrete UX examples but here, in this public forum, we’ll have to make do with generalized examples.
UX is NOT about how things look
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that software user experience (UX) is not just about creating a nice “look and feel.” Certainly a poor graphic design can negatively affect the user’s emotional response, and that’s one aspect of UX. But UX is about a lot more than that. It’s also about utility and ease of use, user preferences and perceptions. Put another way, it’s about efficiency, effectiveness and subjective satisfaction.
A good UX designer has a user-centric process, evaluating how successful a design is in meeting all of these goals, as they relate to the business objectives of the company creating the software. UX design is all about continually measuring success and trying to improve on design. When software provides a great UX, it helps create the raving fans who create brand loyalty and reach.
There are some common mistakes that real estate search websites and apps make:
1. Making it too easy to over-constrain the search. When a search presents users with too many fields, it makes the search process seem complicated and makes it too easy for the user to end up with too few results, or no results at all. Instead, the most effective sites present users with a simple search form and then let them narrow their results on the results page.
2. Giving users too many choices for next steps. The interfaces are often too crowded, especially for applications that are trying to be a “Swiss army knife” or have lots of advertisements. This results in user confusion and decreases the efficient use of the application. It’s important to know what the most important thing is on each page, and what users are most likely to want to click, to provide large, obvious links and actions and not to waste precious page-space on items that don’t take the user down the critical path.
3. Showing every piece of information you have, just because you have it. This is very common in MLS, IDX, and VOW displays, where there’s a lot of information that can be displayed. Even if you think it’s important to show everything, it’s important to highlight the listing content that is actually important to different users. For buyers, for example, that will be price, pictures, beds, baths, size, and location.
4. Not focusing enough on mobile. Mobile is important now for almost all users, and that will only increase. Make your mobile web experience as thoughtful and robust as your “desktop” experience. The best way to support this is usually by creating responsive web pages. Apps have their place too. Either way, the mobile experience must offer strong features while respecting the constraints of the mobile platform.
5. Asking for unearned trust. Don’t ask too much of the user before showing them the value of the site or app. Some sites or apps make the user accept location-sharing right away, force users to sign up right away, or make them agree to a big terms-of-use agreement right off the bat. A user’s simply downloading an app or visiting a site does not mean he or she trusts you enough to agree to your requests without your building the relationship first. Ask for permissions as late in the process as you can. Maximize how much a user can do before you ask them for a permission. When possible, explain your need to request information, for example, location sharing, before doing so.
There are various reasons bad UX decisions recur:
1. Design by programmer. Programmers are often closest to the product, but the way they think about the product can make it hard to see it from a user’s perspective.
2. Design by marketer. Marketers have great insight into customer desires, but that’s different from understanding customer’s mindsets when engaged in specific tasks. Also, the “sell-sell-sell” mindset can interfere with creating engaging experiences.
3. Design by CEO/HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Characteristics like unswerving belief in a vision can make it difficult to understand a skeptical customer’s perspective
4. Not “dogfooding.” Companies don’t use their own products enough to properly “feel the pain.”
5. Indirect access to end-users. The structure of sales in the industry means that people making buying decisions are often a few levels removed from the people who use the software.
How can real estate search be improved?
It is important to evaluate UX with end-users early and often, and develop a plan for UX as early as possible – it’s always less expensive to plan design before software coding has begun. If you are creating a real estate search app, you should involve user-experience-design experts in your design, while relying on industry specialists for industry knowledge. When it comes to creating great software and user experience, the right people at the right time in the process make all the difference.
3D Unreal Engine 4 Demo lives up to its name, could make a huge splash in real estate
3D artist and level designer Benoit Dereau has created a demo that is truly “unreal.”
The future of video games undoubtedly lies in 3D and holographic technologies, but does it alter the future of real estate? The company behind one of the world’s most powerful graphic engines, wants you to believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” Epic’s Unreal Engine 4’s newest post, created by 3D artist and level designer, Benoit Dereau, truly lives up to the name “unreal.”
The video takes you on a photorealistic 3D tour of a fantastically 3D-modelled Parisian apartment. The visuals are astounding. From the texture of the cushions to the lighting with real-time shadow rendering. Since this is not an actual space, although it is hard to believe this Parisian apartment does not exist, gives you an insight into what the future of 3D home tours could look like.
From designers to builders, and agents to buyers, this software, once perfected, could absolutely simplify the process of designing and/or buying a home. If 3D models like this were commonplace, scheduling showings would be much easier. Once person could still walk through the actual space, but extended family members could take the 3D tour and chime in with their opinions without the need to come to the actual home.
A virtual tour on steroids
The Epic name may sound familiar. They originally unveiled their Unreal Engine 4 in 2013 with an Infiltrator demo, but it looked more like a video game, than a useful 3D creation tool. This time, rather than surround us with sizzling spaceships, sparks, explosions, and experimentation with light and dark; they chose a realistic immersion into something a bit more applicable to every day life: the Parisian apartment.
Since this tour accounts for a floor-to-ceiling rendering, this could also be extremely helpful for those buyers who are being relocated. This would allow them to narrow down their choices, decide which homes they actually want to see based on a “living” model, rather than a static floor plan, and ultimately save the Realtor or builder time because they are not showing things the buyer will not be interested in after seeing the inside.
Also, this could give the buyer a better idea of what is available on the market in their price range, especially in the instances of relocation where time is limited. I also like this idea for redecorating, or rearranging furniture before you do any heavy lifting, or go to any serious expense, create everything in 3D and see if you like it first.
Take a look at the video below and see what you think. Pretty “unreal;” super useful.
Video tour of Unreal
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