Apartment searching made even easier
Finding an apartment in Manhattan can be a tremendous struggle, or so I’ve heard. I haven’t crossed that bridge yet but like every other problem—there has to be a solution.
My initial research was done through friends and family who currently live in the city.
I’ve narrowed down two major reasons that make apartment hunting in New York City difficult:
Massive Information Asymmetry
Since there are so many sites and apps that provide apartment listings, the amount of information can be overwhelming. On top of this, you need to be prepared to make decisions quickly which limits the ability to see the full picture. Not to mention, a lot of New Yor City real estate is through word of mouth so unfortunately not every available apartment is listed.
Many listings are listed by brokers which add sometimes up to a 15% fee to find a great apartment in the location you want. Also for some, it can be daunting putting all your faith in a brokers knowledge and network.
Streeteasy has done a great job at providing a great service to New Yorkers looking to move or people who are fresh to the city to be able to find their dream apartment. However, I’ve set out to find a way to make Streeteasy even easier.
For me, it was important to look at New York City real estate as a whole before delving into Streeteasy. Knowing that an idea that could benefit not only Streeteasy as a real estate app but actual customers was important to figure out.
Location and Product Research
Homes went into
contract within Manhattan
A 6.4% jump from last year
across all boroughs
Real estate apps servicing NYC
I once read that apartment hunting in New York City is a blood sport—and I’m beginning to see that point of view clearer than ever. While I have to admit, it makes me excited to finally move there, I still wonder if the entire infrastructure can be improved.
New York City is still building condos and apartment complexes at an alarming rate and while prices are dropping amongst all boroughs, it’s important to note that those statistics are based on sales, not rent. Due to this, rent prices are at an all time high, which has resulted in NYC real estate to take a big loss.
To better illustrate this, I compared median rent prices for one-bedrooms across large metropolitan cities:
1. San Francisco, CA $3,550
3. Boston, MA $2,510
4. Oakland, CA $2,480
5. San Jose, CA $2,460
6. Washington, DC $2,300
7. Los Angeles, CA $2,270
8. Seattle, WA $1,890
9. San Diego, CA $1,800
10. Miami, FL $1,720
2. New York, NY $2,780
1 BEDROOM MEDIAN RENT PRICES
With New York City meidan prices for a one bedroom apartment hitting $2780,
we see a 4.6% percent increase just from last month
I interviewed eight people all of whom are either looking for apartments in New York City or currently live there and have used an real estate app to find housing. I asked questions about their experience with NYC real estate as a whole as well as their experience with applications, specifically Streeteasy.
5 in 8
Found apartments using an application on their phones
7 in 8
Mentioned that collaboration with potential roommates is a priority
3 in 8
Said the process of finding an apartment took over a month
Data processing through affinity mapping
I utilized an affinity map to make sure I didn’t miss any thing from my interviews. While I wasn’t surprised by the results I received, I did notice a big issue that I had not even thought about. Streeteasy (and all of the other options) was lacking prioritized roommate collaboration.
Repeating the cycle — Users are worried about the thought of moving to a different apartment or section of the city and having to redo the entire process over again and thus building broker relationships all over again
Lack of group collaboration — Users note that listings show up differently or not at all between friends even though refined search filters are set exactly the same
Inaccurate listings — Users state they have ran into issues where photos of apartments and condos have been photoshopped and sometimes even totally different than what they end up seeing in person
Timing — Apartments—especially affordable ones end up being leased very quickly. There is not a lot of time to deliberate between roommates because by the time they decide, it’ll be gone
“One listing had a view of central park photoshopped into the bedroom window… we got there and I was looking into a brick wall”
There needs to be a better way for users to synthesize all of the real estate options within New York City on their own, escaping exorbitant broker fees all while prioritizing group collaboration.
With NYC’s rent rates at an all time high, collaboration is critical because all of my interviewees have stated that roommates are necessary to supplment the rent cost.
I created a user persona to represent my interviewees. They’re all millennials looking for a change and yearn for collaboration between roommates as all of them need roommates to supplement the cost of housing.
A user story is used to describe goals that the user hopes to accomplish by using the software. For me, this is a good way to focus my design choices around the user, not personal bias.
From my surveys and interviews I have determined a user story that shows what the user prioritizes when it comes to real estate apps.
1. As a user, I want to be able to be able to see all that NYC has to offer without dealing with the hassle of fake listings and excessive fees
2. As a user, I want to be able to collaborate quickly with my roommates to find an apartment that suits our needs
3. As a user, I want to use an app that makes sure what I’m shown is what I’ll be getting once I sign a lease
The experience for users need to be collaborative enough to fix the current issues with apartment hunting within New York.
Apartment hunting isn’t easy. Nor is it the most enjoyable experience. Sensible design will allow users to make this aspect of their life easier.
Low-Fidelity wireframes exploring how to incorporate VR/360° images into the existing platform
Click Here to View an Interactive Prototype
(Works best on Desktop)
I sent my prototype to a few people who have used Streeteasy and they liked how it fit right into the existing platform as an added feature, not a “in-your-face” function. While useful, respondents questioned the practicality and wondered if it will actually make finding the right apartment or home easier.
I mentioned to users (however it wasn’t a huge part of my project) that they would have the option to put their phone into a VR device such as Google Cardboard to have a more immersive experience. While the 360° photos with a “tour guide” felt natural, putting their phone into a device is asking too much.
I’m also worried about the quality of 360° images and if they provide enough scale to be viewed correctly while being able to focus on the apartment. If this process can be streamlined, it might be worth looking at VR more closely for apartment hunting.
Return to Home
It’s hard enough to find an apartment in a location you want at the right price point. I think the idea of using VR capabilities or even just 360 photos to give “interactive tours” of apartments and homes is something that could be useful in the future—but for right now, I’m not sure the technology is advanced enough whereas it would make a huge difference.
Also, taking true 360° images could pose an extra step and more headaches when it comes to people listing their space for rent. If this were to become a real feature, Streeteasy would need to take some control over how the listings are set up in order to provide a good experience for users.
The added features need to be familiar to existing users as well as intuitive enough for new users. This will create a seamless integration while maximizing success.
Multidisciplinary Designer & Art Director