A Digital Service for First-Time Homeowners
Two weeks before our kick-off meeting, my team learned that Homebuddy’s CEO Ryan, changed the direction of his startup. Initially, Homebuddy provided general reminders and maintenance tips about home appliances based on manufacturer’s recommendations and provided step by step instructions to take on DIY home projects.
Ryan’s pivot to enter the highly competitive realtor market stemmed from his belief that a business opportunity lied in the house searching and buying process because he wanted to get a cut of closing costs to provide funds for his business.
During the first meeting, our goal was to figure out how Homebuddy was trying to position itself in the large real estate market and understand what they needed from our team.
I learned that Ryan was essentially trying to replace traditional real estate agents with Homebuddy realtors to educate and assist first-time millennial homebuyers during the house searching and buying phase, who would also serve as home concierges for home maintenance and repairs after closing.
What they needed from our team included:
My team and I had 4 weeks to deliver a design. Knowing very little about the home buying process and homeowner responsibilities, I stressed the importance of having a holistic understanding of the house buying market, closing an offer on a home, and the responsibilities that arise post-closing. We found information that revealed potential worries of our client’s targeted audience and valuable information about the role of a home inspector:
I used this information along with what we learned from our client to help our team formulate meaningful questions in preparation for user interviews.
Understanding Our Users
Next, my team proceeded to identify the various avenues that constitute home searching and buying for our users. This included knowing the tools they rely on to find a home and a realtor, and understanding their thought process before and after making a decision to put an offer on a home.
We did this by conducting user interviews with:
After the interviews, our team used the affinity mapping method to target our users’ needs and pain points.
The result of this activity led us to begin identifying our users’ wants and needs that didn’t quite align with our client’s focus about the realtor playing a significant role in the first-time millennial buyers’ experience.
We began to recognize similar patterns in our users’ behavior captured by the following quotes:
Defining the Problem
After a thorough examination of our insights, we concluded that:
Our users are comfortable taking the steps to find and put an offer on a home, but are oblivious and need assistance with homeowner responsibilities.
They don’t see themselves as handy around the house, and though they are comfortable with small projects, they prefer to hire a professional for large and immediate repairs.
They see their home inspection report as a resourceful document containing viable information about their home.
From this we were able to pinpoint a core problem that would best meet our users’ needs:
As excited as we were to begin addressing our users’ needs, we knew our discovery didn’t align with our client’s vision about the Homebuddy realtor service, and while we wanted to keep our client happy, we also wanted to define something that would best solve for our users’ needs.
Our next step was to inform Ryan and the Homebuddy team about our discovery.
Laying it Out for Our Client
I took the initiative to take our client through a hypothetical first-time millennial home buying and owning roadmap by translating our synthesized data into a visual journey map and discussing project milestones.
The goal here was to:
Explain the phases our users go through with ease to become homeowners
Narrow in on our users pain-points during closing and owning their house
Present our area of opportunity for Homebuddy and open it up to discussion
Gain client alignment
I began by explaining that from our user research, we discovered 4 major phases that our users go through to become homeowners.
I highlighted that it would be difficult to have a competitive advantage over online real estate database companies like Zillow or Redfin because:
3 out of 4 of our millennial homebuyers initiate their home buying search on Zillow or similar websites
Half of them complete the process through these websites, and the rest continue their purchase with a realtor
I explained that users value the in-person experience of viewing a home with a trusted realtor because:
They use this time to ask questions about the homes they are viewing
They don’t think to reach out to their realtor for other services after this phase
I explained that if users need help understanding mortgage related information, they use trusted resources like Zillow to:
Make smart real estate decisions, which includes finding the best lender and loan for their new home
I pointed out that right before closing, our users stated that they either:
Wish they had a qualified home inspector give them a comprehensive understanding of the condition of their home
This was the first time they began thinking about the cost of repairs that their home may need in the future
I presented our area of opportunity explaining how it was best to narrow our scope from the entire journey, to a little before closing, through the home owning experience because:
I recalled from our first meeting that Ryan wanted Homebuddy to serve as some form of a concierge service and stated that this aligned with our user needs, which our team would explore during ideation.
I also explained how our direction has potential to impact the market amongst our competitors:
Our client was impressed by our research and we were able to gain alignment on the direction our team was going to take moving forward in creating the MVP. We did acknowledge that Ryan also wanted Homebuddy to educate first-time millennial homebuyers and we concluded the meeting stating that we would create a landing page that contains a layout of educational resources.
Design Principles and Goals
To give ourselves the tools for productive ideation, we drafted design principles to serve as reference points at every step:
1. Provide users with concise and easy to digest information about home issues.
2. Show users the value of being proactive instead of reactive to stay on top of their responsibilities and save money.
3. Lay out all unbiased information and empower the user to make a decision.
Ideation and Concept Testing
The goal at this stage was to validate the visual representation of our data by determining which concepts are the most useful and immediately understandable by our users during testing. We wanted to explore the best ways possible to:
Encourage users to take proactive measures and do home maintenance
Determine how they would benefit from a concierge service and what their expectations are for a hassle-free repair experience
Inform and update them about the value of their home
Figure out how to best present the home inspection report
After performing different ideation exercises, our team narrowed it down to 12 concepts and designed them on Sketch, making sure that we validated each concept against our design principles and four goals above.
How do we encourage our users to be proactive and do home maintenance?
2. How can our users benefit from a concierge service and what are their expectations?
3. How do we inform our users about the value of their home?
4. How do we present the home inspector report for our users?
Iteration I - Issues with Flow and Content
I added a “Call A Professional” CTA button on the finance and maintenance chart that I created and defined the numerical values to encourage user action and provide decision making content (1.3). I created a drop down service history list of recorded services done to the home that is broken down by seasons of the year to support the content presented in the home value chart (3.2). Also, since the overall concept to Homebuddy is pretty foreign, I included a tutorial video in the onboarding flow that guides the user through the Homebuddy features and experience.
We continued by converging mid-fidelity prototypes of our MVP in Axure with every detail supported by our concept test results. Since the process including moving content around based on what made sense to our users, I began to clarify the hierarchy of content within the site, and our team laid out the groundwork for the screens we needed to build.
The site map for our website design:
On the fourth week of our design sprint, we conducted usability tests with 6 users. We came up with scenarios and specific tasks with the intention to:
Gauge if users are able to complete the tasks successfully and easily
Clarify any remaining questions or ideas regarding the iterations made from concept testing results
Determine how satisfied participants are with the product
Identify future considerations to improve user experience and satisfaction for further testing
Task 1: Sign up for a Homebuddy account and enter the home inspection report number “9595” when prompted.
Users were confused by the “UPLOAD” CTA button because they didn’t connect their home inspection report with a four digit number.
They questioned how their home inspection report is generated by entering the number into the Homebuddy system.
Task 2: Book an appointment for a repair.
Users wanted to see if the professional is available during their selected time on the same page.
They wanted to see other available timeframes that are not in four hour blocks.
After scheduling their appointment and acquiring services from the professional, users wanted to be followed up about the services received.
They wanted to see this option stated near the “CONFIRM” CTA button to assure them that they will be receiving this in the future.
Task 3: Find the manufacturer’s guide and manual for repairs for your Samsung fridge.
Users didn’t realize that the floorplan was interactive to monitor the appliances in their house.
Task 4: Check the service history of what you've done this winter season and see how it’s impacted your home value.
Users wanted to see the data that shows why the numerical values are increasing and decreasing.
They wanted more context on how the approximate home value is calculated.
Task 5: You want to check the history of the maintenance, renovations, and repairs you've done for winter 2019.
Users wanted to see how the appliance information is populated.
They liked the service history log but they also wanted to see the professional’s information listed for future reference.
Iteration II - Issues with Credibility
Most of our users’ concerns included how the home value, service history and appliance information is accrued in the Homebuddy system and they needed reassurance that the Homebuddy concierge would follow up with them.
Given the time constraints of our four week timeframe, I added content to the service request flow indicating that a Homebuddy concierge will be in touch with users for availability, confirmation and post-services reasons. We added a subheading under “My Home” in the dashboard page indicating that the floorplan is interactive. The rest of the needed iterations were addressed as future recommendations during our last meeting with our Ryan.
The Final Design
Overall our users reacted positively to our design solution remarking that they find value in a service that allows them to take care of their home and keep track of its value.
“I think having that stuff, doing and seeing the renovations or the updates you make to your house and how that increases or decreases its value is important to check out, so I would definitely use it.”
Eddie, 31 - homeowner
“I like that it [home floorplan] takes you straight to the manual. It’s much nicer than searching the internet.”
Katie, 33 - homeowner
This video provides a brief walkthrough of our mid-fidelity prototype we tested with users:
To explore our entire interactive prototype in your browser,
We delivered our mid-fidelity prototype with annotated wireframes to our client who received it with enthusiasm. Ryan even went as far to state:
Homebuddy recently got accepted into a New Venture Capital Accelerator where they showcased our work in order to get funding. 2019 New Venture Chapter Accelerator
We delivered our final designs with annotated wireframes to our client and I took the initiative to present them a few considerations based on our usability testing results, regarding our prototype for further testing and their business model for marketing strategy:
I began my journey with Homebuddy excited to work on a project unique to the market with a team of passionate UX designers and ambitious client.
The quality of work delivered was a direct result of having the creative freedom to explore various focus points throughout the home buying and owning user journey, which was aided by our point of discovery. Even though we had the liberty to design a viable solution that is desirable by users, I recognized the importance of designing within a feasible frame.
Considering that our client changed the direction of their startup two weeks before working with them, one of the main challenges we faced as a team was at the beginning of our process due to the lack of assets from their end. I learned to think quick on my feet and take the initiative to conduct my own research if it isn't provided.
Our efficiency as a team resulted from each designer contributing their professional expertise and interest to the project. Working on this project I discovered another interest of mine in storytelling and presenting findings and designs to clients through a user-centered approach. I learned that this is a good time to engage clients, by either doing an activity with them to include them in our team journey and assure that their involvement along the design process matters.