Bridging the gap between the home search process and financing

UX Research
Design Sprint
Prototyping
Case study thumbnail

The brief

How can we keep homebuyers more engaged?

FinLink is a CRM software specifically designed for mortgage brokers in Germany. It provides brokers an overview of active mortgage applications, helps in processing the applications and required documents and gives homebuyers a digital tool that allows them to easily apply for a mortgage, compare offers and upload documents.

The problem

One of the biggest struggles of mortgage brokers is that most of the homebuyers who contact them are still searching for a home. This type of client is hard to convert, since the property search can take more than a year, and during that time the buyer may get into contact with other mortgage brokers.

We wanted to find a way to keep these clients more engaged for longer.

My role

I was responsible for the product design and the research. I worked closely with Tanya Höpker, the product manager and design sprint facilitator for this project, and was supported by my design colleague Alexandra Rudneva, who helped with the interviews in German and notetaking. We also involved a few of our developers during the discovery interviews so they could get more direct exposure to the problem space.

Timeline

December 2020 - January 2021

Tools

Figma logo
Figma
Miro logo
Miro

Research

Are our assumptions correct?

At the start of the research, we gathered assumptions throughout our company with the intention of checking the validity of these assumptions during the exploratory interviews with our users. We interviewed 6 mortgage brokers and 5 homebuyers, most of whom were still in the process of searching for a home. We used Miro to gather all of the notes and grouped them into relevant topics.

Research notes

Notes from exploratory interviews with mortgage brokers

Validating our hypothesis

We then checked how many of the interviews confirmed our assumptions. Our results suggested that some of our assumptions were completely correct, but for others, we either hadn’t managed to gather relevant data or the answers were not conclusive. This was a good indication that the planned design sprint would be very helpful to test our ideas further.

Assumptions table

Checking if our assumptions are confirmbed by the interviews

Questionnaire analytics

We also analysed the answers from our online mortgage application form. The data showed that most clients haven't secured a property when they talk with an advisor for the first time.

Survey results

Answers from 227 users on the online mortgage application

Key research insights

Insight
💡

83% of clients are still looking for a property when they first contact a broker

Insight
💡

The real estate market in Germany is very competitive, and most clients end up losing their initial property

Insight
💡

All of the brokers in our study find that clients who are still looking for a property are the hardest to convert

Design sprint

Ideation as a team activity

We planned to do a design sprint for this project since we wanted to get more team members involved in the product design process. This was our first design sprint, and it was fully remote.

Team

Design sprint facilitator: Tanya Höpker (Product manager)
Designer: Martina Nikolova
Developer: Daniil Kutsyna
Domain expert: Jan Joisten (Mortgage advisor)
Decider: Gernot Schusser (Founder)

Note: Since this was our first design sprint as a company, we also received some guidance and advice from a design thinking coach from Product Dojo.

How might we help advisors keep a client who is still looking for a property?

Drawing the map

We mapped the whole client journey, from the moment of deciding to buy a home to purchasing one, so we could clearly see how the process of searching for a home fits into the whole mortgage application journey. We concluded based on the interviews that most homebuyers end up losing their property at some point and thus need to start over in their search. We decided to focus our ideation on this second stage of the process, after buyers have restarted their search.

Journey map

The mortgage application journey

Ideation & sketching

During the ideation process, we asked everyone on the design sprint team to sketch their solutions separately, and then we voted on the best ideas. For me as a designer, this was very insightful since it was proof that good design ideas can come from anywhere in the team.

We then stitched all of the ideas into one complete journey, which made the prototyping process much more manageable.

Solution sketches

Solution sketches from all design sprint team members

User testing & final solution

Can we make searching for and comparing properties easier?

I prepared a prototype using Figma on the next day which we then tested with 5 users. We wanted to answer the following questions:

   •   Would our users trust FinLink for their property search?
   •   Would our service help them to choose the right property?

Initial prorotype

Overall, we received really positive feedback about our prototype. In particular, many users really liked these two components:

•   Access to multiple search platforms
•   The comparison table that replaces the need to create Excel spreadsheets

However, there were some usability issues that needed to be addressed, which I’ve highlighted below.

View initial prototype
Initial screen for searching properties

Initial screen for searching properties

Initial screen for comparing properties

Initial screen for comparing properties

Ensuring platform logos are clearly visible

Some users didn’t notice the logos of the different search platforms, since they were placed on top of the property photos. So I decided to move the logos to the white portion of the card and to keep their original colors in order to build more thrust and make them easily recognisable.

Initial search screen. Platform logos are not clearly visible

Initial search screen. Platform logos are not clearly visible

Back
Final search screen. Improved visibility of platform logos

Final search screen. Improved visibility of platform logos

Making it easy to view the location of a property on the map

Most of the users mentioned that they always check the location of the property on the map, so I decided to make the property address link to Google Maps.

Initial search screen. No link to map

Initial search screen. No link to map

Back
Final search screen. Address opens Google maps in a new tab

Final search screen. Address opens Google maps in a new tab

Making the method of comparing a property more prominent

Some users had a hard time figuring out how to add a new property to the comparison page. To resolve this, I decided to make the button more prominent by adding it right next to the properties list.

Initial comparison screen. Adding a property is not clearly visible

Initial comparison screen. Adding a property is not clearly visible

Back
Final comparison screen. Adding a property button is more prominent

Final comparison screen. Adding a property button is more prominent

Simplifying property selection & showing placeholder photos

Some users were a bit confused about the multiple CTAs on the page, so I simplified the process of selecting a property by adding a button just below the property image. Additionally, I had to think of a way to show an image when there’s a missing property photo, so I came up with two placeholder illustrations - one for an apartment and another for a house.

Initial screen. Too many CTAs

Initial screen. Too many CTAs

Back
Final screen. Cleaner way to select a property

Final screen. Cleaner way to select a property

Tech constraints

We had to make a couple of additional changes after discussing the prototype in detail with our tech team:
 
•   We removed the categories for “Highest chance for financing”, “Green neighbourhood” and                   “Highest rental income” since it was hard to get reliable data for these factors.
•    We removed the bank valuation since it was not possible to get precise numbers; because this is           often a deciding factor for homebuyers, we didn’t want to potentially mislead them.

View final prototype

Learnings & Next steps

Lessons learned and where we go from here

Some ideas will never exist until everyone enters the room.  In other words, I discovered how important collaboration on design ideas is and that bringing more people into the process doesn’t undervalue my work, but elevates it.

Not everything can be user tested in advance. As much as we try to simulate a real-world scenario or environment during user testing, the real issues and solutions will always come up when the feature or product is live and people begin using it in the context of their daily lives.

In our case, the next step was to build an MVP of this feature to find out how much people would use it in their daily lives and whether this would allow them to engage more with their mortgage broker.

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