Improving process of buying pre-construction condominiums.

For last year I worked in real estate industry. I’ve learned about the traditional process of buying pre-construction condominiums. I uncovered several challenges that both, developers and customers need to face:

— Lack of inventory tracking.

— Difficulties with searching and comparing available suites.

— Limited accessibility means that only selected group of people get a chance to purchase new condominium.

— Lack of communication between the sale team and customers.

We’ve built the product with an understanding of Canadian’s law regulations and developer’s relationship with brokers. Also, there are a lot of myths about buying pre-construction properties.

Background story

Ohme is a start-up eCommerce marketing website for the real estate industry. Platform to sell townhouses, condos and houses directly to customers. We’ve designed the first product for developers from Toronto.

The first time the idea of selling condos online were introduced over 2 years ago. Buzz Buzz Home (Canada-wide real estate search site) announced to "enable shoppers to buy new construction homes with the click of a mouse and a credit card". Never happened, but the survey on the website shown that there is some potential in this idea. 

I worked as Product Designer closely with the Managing Director, off-site Development team (DevBBQ) and Sales team to create first version of the product.

The vision: to revolutionize developer’s sales and marketing process.

The challenge: to build eCommerce through user empathy (HCD) and improve process of buying pre-construction condominiums in Toronto.

We’ve put together all possible functionalities and features first. We wanted to include as much as possible to break it down into fixed scope MVP later on.

First, I’ve talked to sale team to learn about the process and customers from their perspective. We got access to data—our client’s previous sales:

— There are two main ways that customers buy new condo. They use help of broker or contact directly developer’s Sale team.

— There are two main groups of customers: first-time buyers and investors. 

I’ve also talked to people about their experience. Based on that I’ve created user personas and write user stories.

Re-thinking the process

The traditional process was focused on making deals through sale team or broker. Customers had access to limited informations and to find out more about inventory they usually need to fill the form and register. They got this updates in email or they book an appointment with representative. It caused some challenges:

— It takes time. 

— Sometimes sale team didn’t follow up.

— Lack of real-time inventory.

Learn: the visitors have access to all the informations and available suites. They can easy search and compare inventory and create list of favourited ones. 

Confirm: only users can proceed to checkout. Visitors need to create an account and confirm the sign-up. 

Purchase: customers can reserve selected suite by paying deposit with credit card (we’ve used stripe technology). They need to fill the personal details, read and agree to the terms and confirm they didn’t use any brokers help.

Finalize: clients can book appointment with the finalize deal. If they didn’t, sale team get email notification to follow up.

Benefits for customers:

— Accessibility. Everyone get public access to trustful source of the informations about the developer, development site and prices.

— Real-time inventory. People can take their time and compare floorpans to find the best deals without contacting anyone.

— Instant action. They can pay deposit online to reserve selected suite within minutes. Still it doesn’t mean they buy it. Also, all customers get full refund if deal won’t be finalized. 

— Save up to 25% of the commission.

Benefits for developers:

— Increasing marketing reach.

— Focus. Sale team can help people with finalizing the deal rather then sending floorplans and invetory updates.

— Keeping track on sales performance and limit purchase to one per person.

— Knowing their customer. User need to confirmed email address to create an account.

— Save up to 50% of the commission.

Design Process

We’ve started to design mobile first. The platform's dedicated to make sales during launch event. We’ve decided to built product with the Lean Startup principles. 

Based on the research and with help of user stories, I’ve designed first lo-fi wireframes in Sketch and discuss progress with my team. At the beginning we wanted to cover the main customer’s roads. In next steps we've added new features and designed all possible ways.

I wanted to design products with customers through prototyping and testing as soon as possible. I like to test product often to get feedback from teammates and potential customers. I believe we should design not only for customers, but also with customers.

Using only two tools (Sketch + InVision) during the whole process helped me to make the transition between low and high fidelity really smooth. 

Defining and solving 
problems

These principles helped me organized our work. Solving one problem uncovered more issues. Working closely with customers allowed me to make sure I will choose the right solution. 

 

Challenge: to create logic structure of the inventory.

— Pre-construction condominiums sales are based on floorplans. 

— There are hundreds of available suites. 

—  Single floorplan (layout) can have multiply suites.

 

We’ve displayed differences inside drop-down input so customers can easy compare available units and preview key details.

Suites similarities:

— Floorplans.

— Key Informations (bedrooms, den, bathrooms, SQFT, balcony).

— Description and additional details.

 

Suites differences:

Problem: users were missing available suites hidden under drop-down list.

We’ve learned that users didn’t noticed drop-down list and we’ve improved this experience (before vs. improved).

Problem: overcomplicated user flow of buying the condo. 

We’ve minimized the user flow to 8 steps, but tests have shown that we can do more. First user flow was based on sale team and client requirements that people have to create an account (verification of customer) to saved favourites suites and then proceed to checkout. I've suggested to create simpler and more user-friendly flow.

We did A/B testing. In this kind of situations customer is your best friend to prove your solution. Almost everyone found the first flow more confusing.

This solution uncovered another problem with different stages of “Proceed to checkout” button. 

We’ve provided clear messages to customers. In general, we’ve designed website providing feedback following the approach to “never leave any customers alone with their thoughts”.

Coding time!

We’ve worked with off-site Development team (DevBBQ) to turn all our work into working first version of the product. We’ve started from the kick-off meeting where we’ve discussed MVP and planned the process of developing.

My role was to provide all assets and instructions. We were checking progress every week and communicate on Slack in meantime. I was supporting them with feedback to meet our agreements and to deliver the best quality.

This is just short case study of the journey from the idea to the shipped product. I would be more than happy to talk in details about this project. I’m always looking for constructive conversations and creative projects. Let’s talk.

Real estate industry is really complex. Working at small team has its hazards of taking shortcuts. As a product designer I had to be very careful with my decisions. Ohme just started the journey, but it already catched attentions of the industry.

For me, it’s time to move on. I’m back in Poland to build more awesome products.

You can reach me via marcin@firetravels.com or give me a call +48 733 314 880