Technology

The most popular real estate apps aren’t even real estate apps. Should we worry?

Developers, stop trying to build 'unicorn' products that do everything your customers say they want

I often ask real estate agents what their three most important real estate websites or apps are, and I get a surprising mix of answers. Namely, most of them aren’t even real estate apps.

Somehow, Gmail, Dropbox, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook, various blogging platforms, multipurpose CRMs, and photo sharing and retouching applications seem to win out over anything our industry has produced.

So how is it that even with $1 billion of investment in innovation in this space for real estate applications made for real estate professionals, most of these tools are still at a fraction of their potential adoption?

The answer lies in how we build. What do all these beloved consumer and multi-use B2B products have in common? They do one thing well. Evernote, for all its success in real estate and many other verticals, does very little.

Yet, increasingly, I see real estate technology companies fighting to cover as many “boxes” in the landscape chart as they can. They’re adding features and covering new product categories as they grow, instead of going deeper and doubling down on the category they initially set out to serve.

The result is often an ugly Frankenstein of an enterprise software platform that, unsurprisingly, few want to actually use. Feature-itis at its worst.

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One reason this happens is that real estate agents are notoriously (and wonderfully) direct about what they want. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that a certain product is great, but what they really want is something that can manage leads, do customer relationship management, build drip campaigns, do document management, and manage the whole transaction in one platform.

Evernote, for all its success in real estate and many other verticals, does very little."

Technology companies, facing increasing pressure to drive revenue when agents spend only $500 to $2,000 per year on technology, see that they can’t very well just charge more for the same features they’re offering. So they look to increase their share of wallet. Adding these features that agents “want” seems like the right thing to do.

The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to do one of these things well, let alone five of them. Look at the proliferation of amazing consumer products over the last few years. The iPhone did remarkably few things when it first came out (heck, it couldn’t even copy and paste). The iPad did even less.

Yet these products irreversibly raised the bar for what a good product should be. Agents, as much as anyone, look at products like these and the aforementioned Gmail, Dropbox, Evernote et al. as the new standard for quality.

Other industries get this. At Amitree, we use Waveapps and MoonClerk for invoicing and accounting. Both are simple, incredibly well-designed replacements for what traditionally had been enterprise software with a very poor user experience and design aesthetic.

We can do this for real estate technology, too — we just have to let go of the idea that we can build “unicorn” products that do everything our customers say they want. We need to listen, but verify through user feedback and testing to see if adding another feature actually makes our product experience better. We need to get better at saying “no.”

We need to look at the Web around us, and compare our products not to other real estate tech platforms but to the websites and apps agents use every day. And if we do, the upside is boundless.

If real estate technology can attract this much investment, this much M&A, without even being represented in the top three technologies agents use, it tells me that there’s only one direction we can go. Up.

Jonathan Aizen is the founder and CEO of Amitree Inc., the developer of Closing Time, a tool to help homebuyers and their agents navigate the process of buying a home, organizing the dozens of tasks into an easy-to-understand checklist that is customized for each buyer’s unique situation.