The real estate domain has long occupied a prominent place on the web and in the app stores. Today, there’s a lot of speculation that real estate websites and mobile apps might one day replace agents and brokers completely. This may sound a bit disturbing if you’re a real estate agent who hasn’t already gone digital. On the other hand, real estate mobile app development is something that agents can invest in to keep pace with the times.
No wonder interest in real estate app development has reached its highest point ever. According to the Real Estate in a Digital Age 2018 Report by the National Association of Realtors, 73 percent of homebuyers use a phone, tablet, website, or app in their search. New real estate apps are constantly emerging on the market. This article will shed some light on the current trends in the US mobile real estate market.
The internet is changing the US real estate business
Agents continue to play the leading role in the US real estate market, with 88 percent of buyers seeking an agent's help. However, property information that was once only accessible through real estate agents or brokers is now available through search engines and mobile applications.
More than 90 percent of real estate companies have websites with home listings. The average buyer now uses a smartphone to find properties. They look through real estate aggregators with photos, property listing apps, and details about the buying process. Buyers then get in touch with an agent and visit several homes before buying one. By the way, we’ve developed a real estate app called HomeSway that provides a better home tour experience. You’re welcome to check out the case study.
[The HomeSway app]
Who brought about the change?
Zillow and Trulia did. They’re the ones who have transformed the housing market and made the home buying process more transparent. Originally, neither of these companies were in the business of selling homes (instead, they sold advertising to real estate agents). This enabled them to provide more insight and transparency in the housing market compared to trade associations and housing industry establishments like the NAR.
According to Stefan Swanepoel, a consultant and writer on real estate trends, portals like Zillow and Trulia have created a whole new trend of real estate lifestyle surfing. People who engage in real estate lifestyle surfing are interested in home prices and community information even though they may not be in the market to buy or sell a home.
In 2015, Zillow acquired Trulia, and this combined entity has become the biggest player in the online real estate market. In terms of monthly traffic, Zillow had 36 million visits and Trulia had around 23 million visits in May 2018.
The merger has had a crucial impact on Zillow's development: around half of Trulia’s visitors weren’t using Zillow before the acquisition. Now the websites complement each other. Zillow concentrates on the full lifecycle of owning and living in a home, while Trulia focuses on the home search process.
As a result of the acquisition, the company’s websites and apps had a combined total of around 186 million monthly visitors during the third quarter of 2018, roughly triple that of Realtor.com, which averaged about 60 million monthly visitors during the same period. Zillow’s estimated 2018 ad revenue is $1.3 billion.
Despite Zillow’s earlier statements that they would never sell real estate, they’ve taken the first step toward the selling side of the business. In 2018, Zillow announced its Instant Offers program. This program enables sellers in specific markets to get offers from investors.
Soon after that, Zillow became an investor itself and bought some homes. At the end of 2018, Zillow acquired Mortgage Lenders of America (MLoA). Zillow has gone a long way, from showing buyers homes to actually purchasing homes. Now they’re all set to finance home purchases.
According to Bloomberg, the deal between Zillow and Trulia is the largest acquisition for Zillow thus far. But it certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last. Here’s a short list of some of the acquisitions Zillow has made over the years:
- Leading New York–based real estate website StreetEasy
- Agentfolio, a collaboration tool to help real estate professionals and home buyers stay organized and communicate more effectively
- Map-based apartment and home rental search engine HotPads
- Retsly, a Vancouver, B.C.-based startup that helps developers access real estate data from Multiple Listing Services (MLS). This service takes data from MLSs and normalizes it so real estate app developers can more easily use the data in their own applications.
Since acquiring Trulia, Zillow has kept buying up other companies to expand its sphere of influence. Zillow has receipts for Dotloop, Naked Apartments, and Bridge Interactive, just to mention a few.
[The Agentfolio app]
What you need to know if you want to develop an app like Zillow or Trulia
Zillow and Trulia complement each other, and this applies to their apps. Both companies have a number of apps serving different business needs, including mortgage and rental apps.
In case you decide to develop an app similar to Zillow or Trulia, we thought it might be worthwhile highlighting a few of their prominent features. This should save you a bit of time on researching the competition.
Zillow and Trulia provide home search and detailed listings of properties for sale and for rent. Actually, there isn’t much difference in functionality between these apps.
Users prefer one over the other for their sorting criteria. For example, Zillow users can filter properties by year built. Others decide on Trulia as it has a Transit Score, which measures how well a location is served by public transportation. There’s one main difference between the two brands: Trulia Real Estate is built to simplify the search for properties for sale. On the other hand, Zillow Real Estate provides guidance at every step of the homebuying process, including purchasing, selling, renting, financing, and remodeling.
Let’s spell out the ingredients both apps have in common and see why they’re important so you don’t miss any key points in your own app.
[Trulia Real Estate]
Databases are crucial
A database is a crucial component in real estate mobility solutions, as data has to come from somewhere. The real estate industry in the US is still run by the MLS system, and even big portals like Zillow and Trulia depend on MLS to find information about homes.
Zillow receives MLS listing data in a feed when real estate brokers opt into listing syndication with the Zillow Group. This process is carried out via apps like SimplyRets, iHomeFinder, and Spark APIs. These apps normalize MLS data flows, as fields in each area’s MLS database have to match up with Zillow’s database to show the data in Zillow’s format.
However, Zillow receives listings from an MLS only in some cases. Most mobileof its listings are taken from listing syndication platforms, brokers, and agents. According to the Zillow Group website, Zillow’s database numbers 110 million US homes. You can explore how Zillow interacts with third parties to get data in one of our previous articles.
Right after Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia, there was a popular opinion that the bigtime deal would lead to Zillow becoming the owner of a proprietary network that would pull brokers away from NAR (a housing-industry establishment) and unseat MLS entirely. However, Zillow, which gets more traffic than all of its competitors nationwide, still uses MLS listings.
If you want to create a full system like Trulia or Zillow, you’ll eventually have to comply with rules established by NAR regarding public property details. You’ll also have to deal with local MLSs in the US. But in the short run, to prove your product works, you can start with using APIs from Zillow. Keep in mind that you can use the Zillow API only to retrieve and display dynamic Zillow content without an ability to store it. You’re also not allowed to create an app using the API that doesn’t have links back to Zillow. You can find a full list of FAQs related to the Zillow API on their website.
By the way, improper use of Zillow’s proprietary data may damage your business. In 2014, the Seattle-based startup Flipt faced charges of violating Zillow’s terms of service. The startup managed to survive, and now they connect real estate specialists with potential home sellers by means of AI technology. Keep in mind avoiding similar mistakes when you build your real estate web portal or mobile app.
Advanced search functionality is more of a requirement than a recommendation
Filtered search is extremely important for real estate apps. The better structured your data, the better your app’s user experience. Try to organize information so that property listings highlight the most popular criteria for home buyers. We can separate must-have search criteria like location, property type, and price range from other criteria like square footage, on-site parking, in-unit laundry, year built, and whatever else you think is important to include.
It’s advisable to integrate analytics into your app or gather data from the server to know what your users are most interested in when looking for properties. That way you can make this information catch their eye. We recommend starting with an MVP and continually enhancing the product. With so many geographical areas and user segments, it’s important to find the best fit for your app.
Let’s go back to the Zillow and Trulia apps and discuss their search functionality. Even though they both have separate apps for rentals, they put Homes for Rent alongside Homes for Sale in the search menu of their real estate apps. By having two apps perform one and the same function, the company aims to acquire more users. In addition, every single Zillow and Trulia app promotes other apps the company owns (e.g. apps for agents, mortgage calculators), thus increasing customer loyalty to Zillow brands.
[ Zillow’s app for mortgage credit lending (left) and Zillow’s realtor app (right)]
Listings should portray data graphically
What’s the best way to get users to engage with information about real estate listings? It’s simple: visually. Portraying data graphically reveals patterns that are difficult to detect otherwise. Graphs and pictures always beat long descriptions. Your app can have both, but don’t overload it with too much info.
Zillow and Trulia listings differ. They both, however, have graphical components like a monthly mortgage breakdown. There are a huge number of ways to display information graphically on both iOS and Android platforms. You can find an SDK with developer resources for any type of chart and graph.
Apart from maps and pictures of properties, including other properties in the neighborhood, these apps can redirect you to Google Street View and Google directions with one click. This feature is both simple to implement and valuable for the end user because it adds transparency.
One of the unique features Zillow has is an estimated market value tool called Zestimate, which is a starting point for determining a home’s market value or monthly rental price. This estimate is based on public data like neighborhood market guides and forecast calculations.
What to put on the map and how to make it look nice
Neighborhood information plays a big role in a real estate app, especially now as homebuyers are paying more attention to the community they plan to live in. In Zillow’s app, you can access neighborhood information by clicking on the map. Markers attached to places display information filtered according to the criteria you’ve specified. If there’s too much information to show, you can cluster your markers; in other words, you can put a large number of markers on the map without making it hard to read.
The Trulia app also provides detailed neighborhood information. As soon as a user has chosen a house, they can check the crime level, availability of schools and stores, and other local information. The section “What Locals Say” gives crowdsourced insights.
[Neighborhood information in the Trulia Real Estate app]
Together with placing markers at locations such as schools, Trulia has heat maps that use colors to represent the distribution of data. You can consult Google Maps documentation for information on implementing a heatmap utility on Android and displaying overlays on a map in the iOS developer library.
Maps in both the Trulia and Zillow apps have a draw feature, which makes them super convenient to use. You can circle an area with your finger and the map will show you everything of interest within this zone.
[Drawing a custom region on the map in the Trulia Real Estate app]
Implement a save search feature to retain users
Saving searches or liking properties isn’t only useful for keeping a list of homes in one place; it also makes it possible for a realtor to see what a client prefers and suggest similar options. An app should also send push notifications when a new house appears that matches a user’s search criteria.
These are the components you need to pay attention to when building your own real estate app. Zillow Group, despite its leadership, still has plenty of competition from other sites and mobile apps such as Realtor.com and Homes.com as well as from Coldwell Banker, Re/Max, Century 21, and other real estate brokers. You should check them out too if you decide to try your hand at digital real estate. Yalantis can help you build a real estate solution by sharing our vast experience in native mobile app development and web development.