Compass Product & Engineering 101

Meet the team and discover the tools that are transforming the real estate industry.

We are an ambitious, rapidly growing company changing the face of real estate. Below we introduce you to our business and explain how our R&D team drives it forward. In future posts we’ll dive more in-depth, as well as cover novel technological solutions we’ve developed.

What do we do as a company?

Compass is building the first modern real estate platform, pairing the industry’s top real estate professionals with technology to make the search and sell experiences seamless. Even though we aim to change the real estate industry, our core business model is actually that of a traditional brokerage, which we’ll explain below. We work hard to attract the best real estate agents in the business, and they constantly challenge us to build tools to help them do their jobs better.

In five years, we’ve grown from scrappy startup into a company with national presence and a valuation over $1 billion (update — Dec ’17 valuation $2.2B). We now have about 2,000 agents working in 40+ real estate offices spread across 10 different cities. We’ve attracted top agent talent in markets such as New York City, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, Aspen, and San Francisco, Chicago, and more.

Real Estate Brokerage Business Model

To help you better understand the nature of the challenges we’re facing, it’s helpful to explain how real estate brokerages traditionally make money. When a home is sold, a portion of the sale price called commission goes to the real estate agents. In most of the US, the agent commission is about 5-6% of the sale value. The commission is generally split in half between the seller’s and buyer’s agents. Of the commission given to each agent, a portion goes to the agent’s affiliated brokerage. So on a $1M home, there is roughly $50–$60K worth of commission, with each side taking $25–$30K. While this sounds like a lot of money, keep in mind that this includes all expenses associated with making the sale, from marketing, to hosting open houses, legal, to many others.

Agents are entrepreneurs. They need to market themselves and their properties, network with clients, and handle logistics during closing. As their business grows, they find ways to make this process more efficient. In recent years we’ve seen the rise of more and more “agent teams,” where agents will band together with some support staff in order to service clients more rapidly.

Compass Product and Engineering

As Product and Engineering, we build web and mobile products that make agents more productive so they can focus on doing what they do best: fostering relationships with their clients. Agents at Compass see improved earnings after joining because they spend less time on marketing and administrative tasks when using the Compass platform. Our products and teams can be segmented into four key areas:

  • Agent Suite
  • Data ingestion and analysis
  • Consumer-facing web and mobile apps
  • Employee business systems.

Agent Suite

Our agents are perhaps our toughest customer base, they are power users of real estate software tools. As independent contractors, they are not obligated to use our tool suite. A buyer’s workflow differs from a seller’s workflow, and we need to support both use cases. Buyer’s agents are concerned with presenting an array of listings that are appealing, well-organized, and up-to-date. Seller’s agents are concerned with marketing a property, scheduling open houses, and setting the price based on comparative analyses.

So what can we offer our agents that other brokerages simply cannot? Our agent suite aim to be their one-stop shop that helps them work with clients, understand the current market conditions, and market the property and themselves. Our goal is to offer high-quality data, with the added bonus of incredible ease-of-use. We streamline the amount of time it takes to perform routine tasks such as communicating with clients, organizing tour routes, or creating listing presentations — and make that available both on web and on the go through agent mobile app.

Buyer’s agents can use our newly launched Collections tool to collaborate with clients, or our Toursheets tool to organize their open house viewing schedule. Our Showsheets tool lets them create beautiful advertising materials for upcoming open houses.

Seller’s agents can use our custom Open House app to keep in touch with new clients from their latest showing, and our Listing Presentation tools to ensure a cohesive design across all marketing materials. Seller’s agents also have a Network tool at their disposal which allows them to market to other relevant brokers in the community. Finally we have a Valuation tool geared towards helping agents to value the property and explain the proposed seller pricing.

Parts of our technology are used across the board: for example, our search, saved searches, and notifications have a consistent interface across all user types. Our customer search is just as powerful as our agent search — not something you typically see!

Agents are trusted advisors helping everyone, from first-time buyers to seasoned sellers, make more informed decisions. With all these tools combined, our agents offer customers a higher quality experience than they would find elsewhere.

Data Ingestion and Analysis

The real estate industry’s success is tied to its ability to surface accurate listings data in a timely fashion. Our Data team provides both real time and historical property data to its clients. Unless we are able to meet our agents’ high standards on data quality, our technology won’t get used. Not surprisingly, processing listings data accurately and quickly is one of our highest priorities.

When you view a listing on compass.com, we pull in data from a variety of different data sources. Listings are typically maintained in regional databases called Multiple Listings Services (MLSs), and the data fields for listings, of which there are many, can vary from city to city. Further complicating matters, in some areas listings are maintained entirely “off list” by agents. There’s also data available for each location from the Department of Buildings, city records, and so on and so forth. If we don’t “get it right,” we put our agents at risk of advertising inaccurate information.

The data team processes high volumes of data, which presents some interesting technical challenges for us. We must tackle:

  • Listing normalization: listings from each MLS need to be standardized. It’s challenging considering the radically different data schemas available across regions. We support over 15 primary data sources.
  • Address identification: we take a hard look at each address to make sure it’s formatted in a uniform fashion and translate the address to GPS coordinates so we can display it on a map.
  • Data correction heuristics: we have a number of automated scripts and manual tools to ensure data accuracy.
  • Image processing: on a monthly basis, our image pipeline pulls in over 12 million images asynchronously using Amazon’s Simple Queuing Service (SQS) and Simple Notification Service (SNS). To learn more see this post.
  • Data Recency: our goal is to give agents and consumers the most up-to-date data, so optimizing our data pipeline for processing time is hugely important.
  • Data syndication: we syndicate our data to other industry sources, ensuring that Compass exclusives can be found across the different sites such as Zillow, Streeteasy, Wall Street Journal, etc.
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) and geo-fencing: since maps are obviously important, we have some GIS experts that help us ensure accurate geographic information.

Getting the data into the system is only the first step; the data must be made available and discoverable for our applications. Our sophisticated search service is inextricably linked with data, and powers almost all of our products. Additionally, we have a team dedicated to data science research. They help our agents and customers understand our data better and build models for valuation (i.e. what should a home cost based on market conditions).

Consumer Website and Mobile

Our Consumer Team is responsible for overseeing our public website, which includes a number of tools for sales and rentals. They also oversee our SEO/SEM initiatives which ultimately generate leads for our agents. We also have a mobile team developing our counterpart iOS mobile app.

We aim to provide nest seekers with a uniform experience, regardless of geographic location. Whether the customer is looking for a starter home or their next apartment, they are presented with a user-friendly, beautiful website.

Our powerful search tools help customers drill down to find what they truly want. Our platform has the widest set of search filters available outside of MLS databases, and we have tools both for visual people and number crunchers. Listings can be viewed in three different ways: using a condensed table format, card view, or our newly revamped map search (see post about some advanced tips using Google maps API). We also offer ability to save search criteria and receive automatic alerts when new matching listings come on the market.

In Nov 2016, we released a new product we call Collections. It allows buyers to save listings into a board that can then be shared among friends, family, and their Compass agent. They can comment and communicate their likes or dislikes. Gone are the days of endless emailing back and forth. Collections is a great example of how a company such as Compass can innovate in this space — it’s a tool that helps both consumers and our agents improve the search experience. If you are in one of the areas where Compass has presence, please consider using it next time you look for a home!

Employee Business Systems

Compass has hundreds of employees managing the brokerage, working in agent recruiting and support, legal, finance, IT systems, facilities, etc. We spend a certain amount of product and engineering effort to help us make our business more efficient. This includes tools for recruiting agents, storing legal agreements, calculating commission to pay out to agents, and more.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed learning about what we do here at Compass. The real estate tech space has picked up a lot of steam in recent years. We’re super excited to be at the forefront of this field and can’t wait to see what sort of innovation occurs in the near future. We are growing and actively hiring, so check out our careers page if you’re interested in joining our team! With your help, we can reinvent real estate and help people find the home of their dreams.