Cutting out the middle man
UPAD, OpenRent and Airbnb allow tenants and landlords to find and rent out their properties online from the comfort of their homes. Thanks to the internet, the letting market is slowly moving towards this new model, where traditional agents may no longer be required. What does this mean to Landlords? To start, no agency fees!
During my time at General Assembly in London, me and two other UX designers had the great opportunity of working with an online letting agency known as HomeRenter. The company kickstarted under a year ago, after evolving from two established parent companies called Q Developments and Opendoor. HomeRenter’s moto is to eliminate the middle man from the letting model and to create a fair online platform for landlords and tenants to interact directly, in harmony.
Before delving into the content, I wanted to start by highlighting how we structured the project. The well-known ‘Double Diamond’ became the strategy of how we organised our time and work. This article will be split into these phases to explain our process.
Focuses on exploration, research and gathering insights.
Having been given the brief, our next task was to delve deeper into the problem to understand where we could benefit the company. Before visiting HomeRenter’s head office, we carried out some research into the company and its competitors.
Our Initial Findings
We knew from the brief that their primary persona for this project were the landlords. One of their key objectives was to increase the number of landlords signing up and listing their properties. We were astonished to find that there was an 80% drop off rate between landlords starting and publishing their property. Another area of focus was clarity throughout the landlords web journey, as we found through existing usability testing videos that users were unclear and confused of who HomeRenter were and what they offered.
With these two main factors in mind, we visited HomeRenter to talk through our initial research findings and understand more.
From taking a closer look at their main competitors, we found that with both UPAD, and OpenRent, key information was above the fold with a loud and clear call to action button on the homepage. With Housesimple, values of the service and pricing structure were clearly conveyed to the user, with the focus once again being on the landlords.
We interviewed a number of existing HomeRenter users and landlords who had not come across the site, in order to find out more in terms of their needs and frustrations. Our key findings were the following.
- Transparency of information
- Clarity of services being offered and its benefits
- Good communication to find tenants
- Hidden charges
- Poor management
- Lack of control
Having better understood the users needs, we wanted to see how this aligned with HomeRenter’s current property creation flow. We recorded the emotions of users during their listing journey, to understand the pain points. The below diagram is a representation of the users thoughts (light green) and emotions (orange) based on their actions (dark green).
We found that users were frustrated throughout the process, and there were many dips at which potential drop outs may have been. Having understood the various breaking points within the flow, we wanted to understand where HomeRenter sat amongst its competitors. Below is the time it takes a user to list their property on the various platforms.
The approximate time it took users to list their property through HomeRenter compared to other online agencies was interesting. While 15 minutes may not seem long, the experience map outlined the number of steps to be 17+, which could be reduced.
To identify the key problem and area to focus on and develop a clear design objective.
We knew from the brief that the primary persona are the landlords, however, to get a better idea of who exactly we are solving this for, meet Dominic. He represents one of HomeRenter’s main user groups.
“When I rent out my property, I want to find the right tenants so that I can have peace of mind.” — Dominic
The Ideal Scenario…
Situation: Dominic has a property and he would like a tenant as soon as possible.
Problem: He feels that there are too many websites, and is unsure which one to choose.
Solution: Dominic finds HomeRenter. It’s clear and easy to use and he is able to list his property in less than 10 minutes.
Based on our research and with a clear idea of what landlords need from HomeRenter, we defined 3 guiding principles to consider throughout the design process in order to best solve Dominic’s need.
- The website should consistently demonstrate the HomeRenter sense of identity to inspire trust.
- It should have easy and effective processes to allow for an efficient experience.
- It should communicate the clear HomeRenter ethos at all times.
With our research, Dominic and design principles in mind, we then held a design studio at HomeRenter’s office. The purpose of this was to generate ideas for possible solutions for the following problem:
“How can Dominic list and find a tenant as quickly as possible while clearly understanding the service offered?”
The day was successful in gathering ideas and thinking outside the box collaboratively. Following the design studio, we defined our key areas of focus into the following three categories:
- Landlord Landing Page
- Property Creation Flow
Potential solutions are prototyped, tested, refined and tested again.
We began our design process by prototyping the solutions on paper together with the insights we gathered from HomeRenter’s team. The image below highlights the start of our creative thinking as we began to incorporate the various elements discussed above.
Our initial focus was the homepage and landlord landing page. Through testing, we found that users were generally drawn to the site and intrigued to find out more.
Mid-fidelity — Homepage
While implementing further changes based on test findings, we then developed a mid-fi digital prototype with the aim of focusing on copy.
Users were able to clearly understand who HomeRenter were and what they offered, while finding out more with a short video on why to use them. For those who didn’t have time, we listed three key points derived from the video, in order to help target landlords. From testing we found that the numbers were confusing to users as they signified order. This was later updated for clarity in the hi-fi prototype.
Landlord Landing Page
From our research we knew that users wanted to know how the listing process worked prior to publishing their properties. Therefore, we included an easy to understand infographic to guide them through the process. We also removed the paid membership package as by initially reducing the number of options present to the user, we believe the conversion rate will be higher. This option is now available as an upgrade, for users that have successfully listed their first property for free.
Property Creation Flow
We reduced the number of steps of the property creation flow from 17 down to 5. By visually showing these in the progress bar, testing revealed that users understood the flow clearly and were more keen on completing their listing process.
The creation of our final high-fidelity prototype and the project outcomes.
In order to view the hi-fi clickable prototype, please follow the InVision link below.
In our final design solution, we aimed to improve the content hierarchy and to clearly portray the company’s brand and services offered. We believe we improved the ease of listing, which should result in an increased number of properties published.
Our areas of focus for the future would be to look at improving the mobile navigation as well as the introduction of personalised emails for users. Though also, to address the remaining three personas that the company began to look at, which were the Tenants, HomeViewers and Service Providers.
“Great service — one place where you can manage everything”
“I like the design — very simple and friendly feel. Although there are clearly different offers, you don’t feel like you’re being hustled all the time”
The company were incredibly happy with our efforts during the three week design sprint. They have informed us that they have began to implement some changes already, which will go live later in 2019.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article.
To find out more about the UX Designers that I worked with, follow the below links to their Medium profiles!
Chris DA - Medium
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