CROSS STREET LENDING
Cross Street is a SaaS web app that streamlines the complex homebuying process into a single platform. Customers can find a neighborhood specific agent, lock-in a competitive loan, and receive a rebate of 50% of the agent's commission.
I was the sole designer for this project and was responsible for the full design process from research through design, prototyping, and user testing.
The process of purchasing a home is very intricate, fragmented, and especially daunting for first time buyers. The wide majority lack adequate understanding of all of the steps required to buy a house and fear that they will lose out on or get taken advantage of by other parties.
HOUSE HUNTING IN 2018
In recent years, the trend for homebuyers has been to shop for homes on platforms like Zillow, Redfin, and Trulia before knowing a realistic price range of what they can afford. Finding a knowledgeable and trustworthy realtor is also challenging task.
Sooner rather than later, buyers also need to get pre-approved for a home loan or mortgage, which is a time consuming process because of the plethora of documents required and to shop around for the lowest qualified rates.
First time homebuyers (FTH) often are unaware that there are significant closing costs, on average $5-7k, on top of the purchase price of the home, which is offputting news, but they're in too deep to back out.
Build and validate a MVP web platform for home buyers as an alternate process in securing their mortgage and working with realtors and loan officers.
Since multiple parties are involved with a single transaction for a house, there's a lot of asynchronous touch points on the buying side between the home buyer, realtor, and loan officer. Ideally the transaction would exist on one platform for all parties in order to optimize all of the back and forth communication and inefficiencies that takes place over a few months.
We decided to hold off on a lot of the operations & backend functionality on the loan officer and realtor side in order to focus on testing a conversion funnel for homebuyers. Without the validation from buyers, the whole platform would not be viable.
We'd handle the institutional loan approval and house hunting either offline or on another existing software platform(s) that loan officers and realtors use.
USER RESEARCH & ASSUMPTIONS
Some assumptions we wanted to validate in our research phase were:
Buyers prefer to purchase their home through a single platform over multiple mediums (email, phone, text, in person).
Shopping for a home loan is tedious for buyers to go back and forth gathering all required information.
Homebuyers want transparency with every decision and step in the process to avoid financial mistakes.
Education and knowledge about buying a home is helpful to reduce anxiety and build confidence in first time buyers.
Through conducting interviews and surveying 10 first time homebuyers I gathered the findings below.
On working with a realtor to buy their home versus contacting the listing agent/seller directly:
They valued the support from traditional agents to know that they're getting the best deal and don't want to deal with too much hassle of negotiating with the seller/listing agent themselves. They had a lot of questions, would be difficult to navigate contracts and escrow without an agent.
On shopping for the best home loan:
They were given recommendations by their realtor or friend, shopped around multiple lenders, and always took the lowest rate offered to them.
Half of the buyers felt the loan pre-approval process was more tedious than anticipated.
If they "waved a magic wand" for the ideal home loan approval experience:
They submit a single form, upload documents in one place with a progress tracker on their approval, similar to how packages are tracked through UPS/Fedex, requiring only a one-time credit check. The system would shop around multiple lenders for the lowest rate for them, leaving to them the final step of selecting their loan.
Emotions throughout the loan and buying process:
They felt like they were on a rollercoaster, hectic at some points yet slow and in the dark during others. They had moments of anxiety because of uncertainty and the learning curve for all the loan terminology and processes.
Platforms such as Redfin and Open Listings have been capitalizing on attracting buyers by offering commission rebates by using an agent that represents both the seller and buyer. In order to stay competitive for business, realtors have been more willing to give up their commissions and make up earnings through volume.
Better Mortgage, Rocket Mortgage, and United Wholesale Mortgage are all competitors who have a presence in the online mortgage industry offering attractive rates. However, they are concentrated only on providing you a loan, whereas Cross Street aims to be a holistic platform which includes all the other steps to buying a home.
DINKs, white collar, household income of $150k+
Thoughts/Feelings: Excited to buy their first home, but it's the biggest transaction of their lives. They're anxious don't want to make any bad financial mistakes or decisions. Want to be truthfully informed as they're wary of being taken advantage of due to their inexperience
Pains: Fear of missing out on their dream home. Stress of overpaying for the value of the home. Stress of shopping around for the best lender or loan rate and realtor that will help them negotiate and close on the deal. Not getting approved enough for a loan. Anxiety for waiting on hearing back on offer, dealing with counter offers and unexpected costs.
Gains: Their dream home that they have been saving up for over the last few years. A new start and place to settle down for the next 5-10 years. They're building equity and investing into a property that will give them a greater return than paying rent without any return.
As a unifying platform, Cross Street connects buyers with both essential service providers (loan officer & realtor) to purchase their home at the most competitive rates and cash rebates.
SOLUTIONS - “HOW MIGHT WE…”
Simplify the home buying process to make it a single transactional experience instead of a fragmented one
Provide the buyer with a single point or place of contact eliminating any unnecessary communication channels.
Significantly reduce the amount of time and steps to get a loan approved.
Incentivize buyers to use Cross Street from a financial savings standpoint and not just a better user experience
Guarantee that the realtors buyers work with thru Cross Street will receive a 35% commission rebate.
Provide more transparency to the process of getting approved for a mortgage as well as the rate they're being offered.
Educate and disclose the full process of how they will be evaluated and show the current rates across the most popular lenders.
Increase the quality of lead, or readiness of buyers for loan officers and realtors
Educating buyers is an critical step that every loan officer and realtor takes up valuable time that can be used to service more clients.
When buying a house are a ton of questions especially for first timers, so we need an FAQ section for easy accessibility.
In order to validate our MVP we had to backlog many of our ideas that were valuable to a holistic and refined platform experience for all users, specifically the loan officers and realtors. These were not critical to strategically acquire buyer and borrower customers first and these service providers would be continuing their regular workflow, just with an influx of qualified leads.
Create a full dashboard/CRM for loan officers to manage all clients, documents, and operations processing for loan approvals.
Integrate OCR technology so that documents uploaded by clients do not have to be manually inputted by loan officers or realtors.
Allow buyers to change their assigned realtor/loan officer.
Allow buyers to shop and search for their homes through Cross Street instead of leaving to other platforms.
My initial idea was to have a wizard walkthrough to prevent users from feeling overwhelmed as there is a variety of edge cases in the buying process. For each stage of homebuying we wanted to provide users with educational content that answered the most commonly asked questions for that stage.
With an experienced realtor and lender on our team, we were able to leverage his domain knowledge by providing educational content in short articles or Q&A blurbs. Our strategy was to supply information that translates the financial and business jargon to reduce the anxiety and overwhelming feeling of learning all the ins and outs of buying a home. This also enables better SEO and thus customer acquisition as there's different paths for our funnels.
As a service oriented platform I mapped out the full buyer's journey and experience so that we knew all of the touch points they would have with the product throughout the lifecycle of their home ownership. We then identified what was the most valuable to the buyer which was the pre-approval process. The existing pre-approval process was the point of friction for loan officers and buyers and it's required for new home loans and refinancing existing mortgages.
BUILD & PROTOTYPE
BRAnd & STYLE GUIDELINES
Our design principles drove much of the style guidelines for our typography, layouts, colors, and copy tone. I gravitated towards a minimal and open aesthetic with line icons, concise captions, and plenty of negative space in order to convey the simplicity and transparency users longed for in such an arduous process.
Initial wireframes for the first iteration of the homebuying user journey.
With many different steps in the homebuying process, buyers can be landing on our site with slightly different needs depending on which stage they're in. There are customers who are just starting their own research, some actively shopping for a home, others ready to put in an offer, and then there's current homeowners who have pre-existing mortgages looking to refinance.
Across the identified edge cases, I mapped out the flow of how all customers will eventually reach their end goal and where our service providers (realtors/loan officers) will meet them. We segmented the users into more specific customer groups in order to provide valuable information about each stage they were in to support our design principles of being helpful and transparent with our users. Ultimately, each of the flows would follow a pattern of providing resources and then a CTA to start the pre-approval process as that is the crux of acquiring a sufficient loan amount to buy a house or refinance.
TAMING THE 1003 FORM BEAST
The Uniform Residential Loan Application or 1003 Form is the standard form that all homebuyers or borrowers are required to complete. See in the gallery below. It is 5 pages long with a couple hundred boxes that are nearly all required to collect the complete financial situation of the borrower(s).
From our interviews with lenders and borrowers, this is often a bottleneck in the loan process because of the detailed level of financial information in addition to the supporting documents (bank statements, tax returns, property docs, etc.) required to be attached with the application. Tracking down everything and compiling it together is rarely a task that is completed in a single session, it's often a back and forth process through emails, phone calls, and texts between the loan officer and buyer.
I took an inventory of all of the categories and sections of the application to see where I can reduce the chaos and only display what's critical and necessary, however due to the stringency of fiduciary regulations the majority of the fields were required. My solution then had to evolve, but still focus on eliminating the burden of form filling by having the borrower upload necessary documents and have the platform complete the form fields for them. The borrower and loan officer would then both review that all information is accurate. With an vast number of edge cases based on the financial situation and documents required, I have a short questionnaire users first fill out to determine the logic of which documents they will need to upload.
As an MVP the auto-completion experience would be done manually by the loan officer in order to get loan pre-approvals completed while we introduce more complex functionality and OCR technology to automate this process.
SUPPORT: FAQ/KNOWLEDGE CENTER
To provide full transparency to our customers, we wanted to provide all the answers to the questions borrowers and home buyers typically ask throughout the buying process. We built out two separate sections in our Support page where there’s the FAQs (most commonly asked) and the Knowledge Center (wiki) in where all the more detailed questions would lie.
It was critical to have a effective search functionality as we had nearly 100 responses across all the subtopics, which we put at the top intentionally for accessibility.
TEST & LEARN
Through our initial testing period, the unique value proposition was rather unclear for many of our users. Some of them who use Redfin and Open Listings struggled to see the differences Cross Street offered. Thus our landing page needed rework in the copy to clarify what distinguishes this platform from other real estate tech giants.
As for the pre-approval loan process, there was significant positive feedback in the reduced amount of time and effort to complete the form. Users appreciated that they had a status update throughout each stage of the review process. Though it was in a very basic form, they indicated if they could get email updates on new changes to their pre-approval.
There wasn’t any substantial feedback regarding the FAQs and Knowledge Center, but we will be tracking these pages with Google Analytics moving forward.
TAKEAWAYS & NEXT STEPS
In order for this platform to be successful and valuable to all parties including realtors and loan officers, home buyers and borrowers need to be convinced that Cross Street is the solution that is better than the status quo of finding a lender recommended by their realtor or shopping from bank to bank. Therefore, I believe we will need to do more A/B testing on copy to experiment the best conversion and then move onto improving the experience of get pre-approved. With an insufficient number of buyers on the platform, realtors and loan officers would not be enticed to join the platform as a service provider.