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How to Design a Powerful Real Estate Platform: Complete Guide for 2021

20 min read
Dmytro Trotsko
Dmytro Trotsko
30 Jun 2021
How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

The pandemic caught professionals in many industries off guard. The real estate market was no exception. According to IBIS World, the real estate industry suffered a 16% decrease in market size in 2020. Despite the seemingly gloomy projections, the industry’s market size began its slow and steady climb toward the pre-COVID metrics.

One of the many pandemic ramifications is that people, especially first-time buyers, go online. You can’t leave the house much after all. What seems to be a catastrophe for the industry as a whole, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for those willing to digitize.

How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

Digitalization often takes the form of developing digital products to help buyers navigate the complex world of real estate. The marriage of real estate and technology, often referred to as proptech, has been soaring long before the pandemic, but the latter seems to bring us closer to the inevitable. People go online increasingly more often. Where people go, companies should follow.

But how does one go digital in real estate? Short answer: real estate platforms. The long answer is this article itself. 😄

Introduction to Product Design and Why it Matters to Real Estate

As you’ve just learned, proptech is likely the path to the future of real estate. However, almost 50% of real estate agents consider keeping up with technology to be one of the greatest challenges of the field. A great challenge indeed. They don’t teach you digital product design in real estate courses.

Let’s start with the basics. What is product design in the first place? Broadly speaking, it’s the process of starting with an idea, validating it, and developing it into a successful digital platform. Of course, it’s easier said than done. 

There are mainly 2 forces that open new opportunities to launch digital products in any industry. – One is the technology push and the second is a demand pull. Technological innovations give rise to new business models or radically improve existing processes, while the demand pull is a shift in what consumers want. Although the demand pull rarely occurs so rapidly, amidst the pandemic, we’ve seen an unprecedented percentage of purchases go online. 

How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

Product design is often illustrated as a double diamond, due to the cycles of divergent and convergent thinking. This particular process is also often referred to as design thinking. Let’s unpack that.

  • Step 1. Empathize

You first should start with a problem you’re looking to solve, then research it as much as you can. The research should result in a clear conclusion as to how pressing of a problem it is and how people currently go about solving it. Now, once you know that the problem is real, it’s time to brainstorm solutions. 

  • Step 2. Define

The second step is all about documenting and fleshing out the problems you’ve identified. Skipping this step might lead to your team being misaligned on which problems you’re trying to solve.

  • Step 3. Ideate

The more solutions you’ve brainstormed the better. You should intentionally generate as many ideas as possible so that your chances of hitting the nail in the head increase. Now begins the fun part. Where once we prioritized quantity, it’s time to think of the quality as well.

  • Step 4. Prototype & Test

Look at your solution ideas through the lens of technical feasibility, your users’ peculiarities and needs, and the current real estate market trends. Such a mindset should help you narrow down the ideas into the few you can test.

The testing takes the form of developing a prototype (a no-code clickable piece of core design elements) and then having the potential users interact with it. The feedback you gather on these testing sessions will inform your further prototype modifications. Such modifications may entail both substantial pivots and minor tweaks.

  • Step 5. Iterate

And now you just rinse and repeat. You should repeat until you’re satisfied with what your users have to say about your real estate app prototype. Once that happens, you have a solid foundation on which to build an actual real estate product.


UX ≠ UI

By the way, product design aside, you could also hear “UX&UI design” a lot. It’s hard to draw a clear line between the two, but usually, when people say “UX” (user experience) they refer to the general impression a user will have of the app. When it comes to “UI”, you would usually refer to it as a purely visual aspect of product design.

How product design helps build a real-estate app

The product design process we outlined should give you a high-level view of how things work. Now let’s get into the specific tangible questions it will help you answer.

  • It helps with the understanding of development priorities: what features should we focus on first?
  • When deciding on the roadmap: should we listen first to unhappy or super loyal users? 
  • How can we test hypotheses without investing too much? 
  • How can we create the product without pushing unnecessary features? How can we implement features properly from the first iteration? How to eliminate rework? 
  • Can we eliminate costly errors by improving usability? 
  • Can we make the business process faster and more efficient? 
  • What features or Marketing Materials will help us get exponential growth? 
  • What tools can we use to improve retention and other key metrics?
  • Can we spend less on user onboarding and training, but more on actual profit-generating activities? 
  • How do we provide the best onboarding experience and how to reactivate people that left? 
  • How to build a loyal fanbase and make them bring referrals?

Key challenges of real estate platforms

As in any industry, building a digital product in real estate has its own unique set of challenges. Let’s outline them and dive into the solutions.

  • User Demographics

The first major challenge is that older people constitute a large portion of the real estate industry. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average real estate agent is a 55-year old female. That said, it’s generally the case that older people are slower in adopting new trends, while also being less efficient with gadgets than, say, Millenials.

While real estate agents get older, the opposite is true for market consumers. Millennials and Gen Z constitute the overwhelming majority of the consumers. What makes these two generations unique is their propensity to do everything online. Additionally, they favor rich media experiences, good neighborhoods over property size, and excellent user experiences.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden
    • Accessibility

    The fact that older people are generally less tech-savvy brings up a few design challenges: accessibility, making complex products simple and intuitive, and keeping the balance among applying top-notch design patterns with the common ones to which users got used to. Don’t get us wrong. All products should be intuitive. However, this should be of utmost importance for real estate.

    Internally, when designing software for agents, we politely call it the "grandma mode". This way it is easier to remember that the older family members are the target audience.

    • Fast-paced technology development

    Additionally, things like AR, AI, Big Data are becoming more and more common. Regardless of age, it’s hard to keep track even for the tech savvies. Aside from the complexity of high-tech, it’s also a new challenge from the perspective of product design. New patterns require new solutions, which is exactly what product design can provide.

    How to design a market-leading real estate app?

    How does one design a real estate app? Well, the answer depends on what kind of app we’re talking about. It should be noted, however, that many apps are trying to wear multiple hats. As such, they fit into multiple categories at once, albeit such apps tend to have a primary category they belong to. 

    Types of real estate platforms

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    • Property management

    Property owners oftentimes have a lot of well… properties to take care of. There are things like rent, utilities, maintenance, etc. Keeping track of all of this manually is extremely tedious and time-consuming. Luckily there are a few platforms out there (e.g. Proper) that make a life of a property manager much easier.

    • Buying or renting a home

    These types of apps are generally used by people who are looking for mid-to-long-term accommodation. Such platforms usually give users the ability to search housing based on criteria like location, price, neighborhood, etc. Zillow and Trulia are good examples of said apps.

    • Urban planning and construction planning software

    Urban planning apps by and large aim to help government bodies, real estate companies, and communities get on the same page. Where would it be optimal to build a property? Which kind of property would a certain area most benefit from? What’s the process of getting all necessary permits to start the construction? These are the questions this kind of software helps answer.

    • Assistance for real estate agents

    Generally, apps like these make it easier for agents to keep track of their clients, communicate with them, managing documents, etc. Connecteam is a good example.

    • Home Valuation

    Analyzing the industry trends, historical data, and other factors is what usually goes into assigning a certain value to a house. Complex calculations like these can take a lot of work to do manually. HouseCanary, which is a home valuation app, utilizes the power of AI to help agents evaluate properties much faster. 

    Understanding the complexity of Real Estate

    Real estate in the US is complicated mostly because of the variety of stakeholders: real estate agents, developers, urban planning government departments, and so on and so forth. We actually even have a video on it. Make sure to give it a view ;)

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    The features these platforms should have

    The features listed below are not mandatory for every real estate app. However, if it makes sense to add them and they have the potential to deliver value to your users, you should definitely consider adding those. 

    • Map View

    Location is everything in real estate whether you’re talking about real estate agents, home buyers, or any other person involved. Displaying a certain property on a map is crucial for apps of all of the categories we’ve listed above.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Enterprise-Level Product

    • Navigation and Street View

    Maps and pictures are one thing. But seeing a property from a street-view perspective is what allows to better estimate if a property is a good fit. All apps that deal with property browsing should have this feature. No one wants to open another tab and manually enter the address in Google Maps.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Enterprise-Level Product

    • Property Cost and Mortgage Calculators

    In real estate, price is always a tricky point for all parties involved. Therefore, providing a transparent cost and mortgage calculator is vital for driving trust. Basically, whenever there’s a large cost involved, public calculators are the way to go.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    • Advanced search, save and bookmark

    People who approach buying a home responsibly will always have something akin to a spreadsheet with pricing, location, neighborhood, etc. To help buyers land on their dream houses, real estate platforms should provide an easy way to save the houses that users like and easily compare them. That way you’ll shorten the sales cycle dramatically.

    Additionally, you should allow more advanced users to use complex filters that will help shortlist the houses they look for. For example, a user might be looking for a house that’s close to a subway. Such information can be automatically retrieved from Google Maps. By storing such data you save your users hours of research. 

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: ThemeOrbit

    • Chatbots & live chat

    At this point in time, AI is good enough to tackle the common questions and concerns your clients have. Is the price relevant? Is the property still for sale? What is the neighborhood like? A lot of these questions can be easily identified and answered by a chatbot. If an issue is too complex, you can always connect a real representative. Such features help nurture trust and establish the connection between users and the platform.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Augmented & Virtual Reality

    While you won’t find AR in most real estate apps, it has tremendous potential for real estate. Being able to customize a house in a few clicks will certainly help home buyers make decisions faster. Additionally, virtual house tours might even eliminate the need for many on-site visits.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: AR VR Journey

    • Calendar

    Whenever there are meetings, there should also be calendars. If your customer journey map entails any appointment whatsoever you should either have a native calendar in your app or make it easy to transfer the appointment information to the app of your users’ choice.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Trafft

    • Dashboards

    Dashboards are a feature that should be relevant mostly to real estate agents. They should be able to easily access key information such as how many properties they have available, how many potential buyers scheduled appointments, etc. Dashboards are how you give a bird’s eye view of this data. 

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Push notifications

    Aside from driving such product metrics as retention and engagement, notifications are essential for keeping the users of nearly every real estate out there in the loop. Whether it’s a new property listing, a new appointment, or a new message, you need push notifications to inform the users.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Personal profiles

    In order to help users save houses, book appointments you need to have their profiles in place. This is a basic feature that is a must-have for nearly all of the app types we’ve listed.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Social media integration

    Getting a new house is a big deal. And people tend to talk about important events in their lives on social media. Why won’t you make it easy then to share such things on social media, while also potentially attracting new users?

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Databases

    Real estate platforms have to rely on pages upon pages of relevant information. Supplying the proper infrastructure to store and provide relevant information is vital. No one wants a platform that features properties with inaccurate descriptions or wrong statuses.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Source: Real Estate Wizard Wireframes

    • Feedback system

    There are few apps that wouldn’t benefit from quality user feedback. Real estate platforms are certainly no exception. Giving the ability to submit feedback is not enough, however. You should explore tactics to actively encourage users to share their thoughts and opinions, so you can act accordingly.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    How do you know if these features are technically feasible?

    Technical feasibility is an incredibly important question. Designers can ideate and brainstorm as much as they want, but it ultimately boils down to the developer’s ability to turn everything into code. That’s why you would want to involve a developer early so that they can evaluate the feasibility of such a feature.

    At Cieden, we don’t only do digital product design, but also offer CTO-as-a-service consulting. Such a service entails a detailed evaluation of features’ feasibility, expert recommendation on the technology stack, etc. Feel free to drop us a line if you’re interested. 

    Real estate trends in app development

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    • AI and Task Automation

    Both AI and Automation have been major real estate design trends in tech for a while now. In real estate, these technologies have immense potential in simplifying data collection, streamlining customer interactions, and creating reports and their analysis.

    By removing the tedious elements and trivial decision-making from the agents’ work, you both remove the room for human error and enable the agents to focus on tasks that matter.

    • Virtual Tours and Video Walkthroughs

    According to a post-Covid survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 7 in 10 real estate agents believe that virtual tours and video walkthroughs have played a tremendous role in helping them close deals. 

    Such data is hardly a surprise. In the conditions of restricted mobility, people were quick to find alternatives to on-site visits. Virtual tours have all chances to become the new normal for both agents and those who seek to buy property.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    • Internet of Things (IoT)

    As grandiose as it may sound, the possibilities with IoT and real estate are truly limitless. With the help of IoT, you can optimize resource and utility spendings, remotely control and track virtually every device on the property, ensure enhanced security, etc. With the internet getting faster by the day, there hasn’t been a better time to embrace IoT for proptech companies.

    • Big Data

    Nowadays, there are very few things that technology isn’t capable of tracking. Ethically monitoring your users provides a wealth of insights that personalization to a whole new level. Said personalization usually takes the form of better notifications, search suggestions, and a better user experience in general.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    • Real-time messaging

    In such a saturated market as real estate, the speed of service is at its most important. In the early funnel stages, all it takes to switch to a competitor is a few clicks. This means that you should be able to address all potential objections your users might have. While a lot of these objections can be tackled through guides, FAQ’s and system messages, having a real-time support center will help you cover all of the queries promptly.

    • Consumer-centered communication

    While in the past most home buyers had few options as to which agent to go for, currently the market is shifting toward complete flexibility. Services like Nobul.com allow property buyers and sellers to choose an agent, while realtors have to compete for the users. Such a trend has the potential to revolutionize the way real estate works.

    Real-world examples of good real estate design

    Now that you’re aware of what product design is and its impact on real estate, as well as its challenges and trends, let’s go through a few case studies. That way we can back up the theoretical stuff we’ve discussed so far with examples of real estate apps.

    Agent Listing & Client Management Platform

    This particular real estate web app we designed consisted of three main modules: management of property listings, management of leads and clients, and website builder for quick and easy creation of personalized webpages. Equipped with the industry expertise, we’ve identified real estate agencies and brokerages to be the target audiences. Being up to date with the real estate market, we were able to better empathize and anticipate some of the needs of the real estate professionals.

    Having completed the research and validated the potential solutions, we’ve arrived at a solid design structure that tackled all of the challenges we identified. Moreover, we’ve supplied the developer team with the necessary documentation to get the backend development going even before the designs were complete.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Read the full case study here.

    Gridics (proptech + govtech)

    As we mentioned above, real estate is a melting pot of all kinds of players: consumers, agents, local governments, and so on. Catering to so many different audiences was definitely a challenge we wanted to overcome with this web app.

    Having started with solid research, we’ve identified the needs and pains of all of the parties involved. That way, we’ve eliminated the risk of designing a product no one ones. Then, we gradually built new features and improved what our client already had developed. 

    As per the product design process, we’ve quickly moved through research and validation all the way to high-fidelity design. Following a proper design process allowed us to methodically navigate the complexities of product design and deliver consistent results and project pace. 

    We take pride in the fact that the client was beyond satisfied with our work, which resulted in implementing new designs across the client’s product suite. By the way, we’ve had a series of subsequent successful projects with this customer.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Read the full case study here.

    IoT Property Management Platform 

    Combining our acumen in IoT and Big Data, we’ve helped a client of ours develop a property management platform for property managers. Having clearly defined the pains said managers face with juggling numerous immovables, we’ve helped bring a solution to life through design.

    The end-product entailed a thought-through high-fidelity design, that we further validated with the product’s users. That way, our real estate designs were not only visually stunning but also crystal-clear in their usability.

    How to design a Powerful Real Estate Platform : Complete guide for 2021 Cieden

    Read the full case study here.

    Bottom line

    We hope the suggestions we provided in this article were helpful for your real estate software development and design. If there are any questions or feedback you have, feel free to drop us a line.

    If you’re currently on the lookout for help with your real estate product idea or need your current product revamped, consider booking a consultation with us here. Let us help you turn your vision into a stunning user experience. 

     

     

    Dmytro Trotsko by Dmytro Trotsko

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