With Propertymind we enhance transparency in property management through a modern web app, making it easier to collaborate and resolve problems before they even arise. The goal was to prototype a working MVP to validate the main hypothesis and find product-market fit.
Managing properties is a time consuming and complex topic for homeowners. You're dealing with a language you don't understand, technical questions that rather be answered by engineers, and a lot of folders and paperwork. In consequence, you turn to professionals for help and eventually end up frustrated with the conclusion that the whole industry is stuck in '93.
Going through a radical digital transformation in all industry sectors, today's owners and tenants demand much more transparency, asynchrony, and the direct accessibility of information.
From talking to the main players (property managers, tenants, and owners), we learned that interaction between these parties usually occurs when there is a problem or a question. Imagine your window is broken, it's winter and you don't know how to handle the situation. You lean on property management to receive undelayed, direct help and you don't care whether it's past five or not. Unfortunately, property management services are tied to office hours usually, and your concern might not be at the top of the list anyways.
Meanwhile, managers complain about a high rate of unnecessary service requests that clutter up their inboxes and prevent them from focusing on their work, which is complex enough apart from the communication aspect. Not only do they have to deal with different types of real estate, which involve different (legal) requirements but also do they have to deal with various groups of people, which all have their processes and expectations.
The initial research led us to two core hypotheses.
1. Enabling customers to find all relevant information, dates, and to do's about their property in a central place will lead to a decrease in service requests.
2. A fluid, more transparent communication between all included parties will decrease the average handling time per issue
With these hypotheses in mind, we set out to build a product that enables property managers to offer an extensive digital service, so their customers are more able to reach their goals of getting their questions answered and their problem solved as smoothly as possible.
Since different user groups have different needs, Propertymind provides three major roles: The manager, the resident, and the service partner (external people).
To become a centralized platform that acts as a mediator between different stakeholders, we needed to create a digital reflection of the property itself - a focal place, where all data and communication are stored and kept up to date.
We are aware of the importance but also the effort of digitizing large stocks of files, which could lead to denial on the property manager's side. So we designed the interaction with the model of social networks in mind, making it easy for people to enter new data while keeping the effort as low as possible.
Essentially the interface consists of two main areas.
This tab includes all information about the actual property, a history with various events within the object, relevant contacts, documents, contracts as well as technical facilities of the property. Each element within these areas has its profile in which relevant information is queried and displayed.
In the accounting section, the managers can distribute annual and incident cost settlements to owners and tenants directly, using the relevant due-ups.
When tenants have to become active about their flat, it usually is connected to defects, issues with neighbors, or questions related to the yearly settlement. But when they do, their need is pressing and needs to be resolved immediately to restore peace of mind. A mobile app and a chatbot should provide a remedy.
Not only can residents register their water and energy supply, cancel their tenancy agreements, and manage their transition to a new home also they can take part in an active conversation around the property, with recent announcements, upcoming dates, and other information published by the property management.
To validate the second hypothesis (A fluid, more transparent communication between all main parties will decrease the average handling time per issue) a logic step seems to onboard service providers to the system as well and even though they would only participate irregularly for a shorter time frame enable them to do their work with less friction.
With digital reports on an issue, we would not only provide more transparency on a specialist level but also would automatically create a history that could provide value when it comes to selling or renting out the property. Yet, the most important point is that we increase the overall usability by ensuring a higher degree of visibility of system status by having regular updates from the service provider's side that residents and owners can track on a real-time basis.
To validate the hypothesis we embodied in our prototype, we conducted remote usability tests with estate owners, tenants and managers. By using inspectlet we were able to inspect asynchronously how the testers tried to solve the tasks and whether they interacted with our product at all. After gaining valuable insights on the state of usability through the prototype we asked them to fill out a survey to learn about their subjectiv perception of the product.
As a result we learned, that the participating people are having a hard time of adapting new models of work, and changing their routines. Also the level of engagement was pretty low which made us question the purpose of the product entirely knowing that it would be an expensive investment to furtherly define and implement the platform.
The project made me aware of how personal biases can steer projects and ideas to a certain direction and at the same time taught me to push back when user research and customer feedback clearly says differently.