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Dariya Lopukhina’s PostsAgentfolio
Agentfolio.com is an online collaborative co-shopping platform for real estate agents and their clients. It provides a web and mobile workspace where all people involved in a home search can look for, track, organize and discuss for-sale property listings in one place and in real time.
Agentfolio facilitates a home buying process for both realtors and customers. It gives home buyers a simple and convenient app for their home search, that can be shared with their family members, friends or other helpers. Agents get a solid set of tools for collaboration, client management and branding.
The story started in 2009 when Matthew and Susan Daimler were searching for an apartment in New York and had a rather frustrating experience with their broker. They were struggling to cope with a heap of messy emails, notes and web links and there was no handy way to organize their home search and communication with each other and their agent.
Matthew, who had recently sold his successful online travel project SeatGuru, saw a new business opportunity here. The home search was obviously too complicated to be managed via usual email clients and he decided to create a tool to refine communication between buyers and brokers during a home-hunting process.
After shaping the initial vision and scope for the project, Matthew went in search of a team of software engineers to implement it. He looked through several options and picked the Anadea team.
StartUp: Apartment Sifter
Matthew called his project Apartment Sifter and provided the first look and feel of the application. The core idea was to aggregate and store property data – cost of an apartment, its location and size – from the web in a “folio.” All users had to do was to add an URL of the desired estate to the folio. In its turn the folio pulled all necessary information and grouped it into a handy comparison table.
The main technical challenge at that stage was to extract and arrange property data from multiple external sources. The sources supplied information in different forms and formats, e.g. the data could be stored in XML files or provided by API. Besides, users were able to add listings directly from the web. The application worked as a scraper – scanned a web page for apartment details, added it to a database and checked the existing database for duplicate entries.
The project had a very dynamic nature. Matthew was studying the real estate market and experimenting to identify an optimal set of features for his application. The development team had to keep up with the frequently changing requirements and promptly switch from one task to another whenever Matthew asked for that.
The first team assigned to that project consisted of Sergey Ischenko and Denis Barushev. Later Ivan Rostovsky replaced Denis Barushev and kept on development with Sergey. Our engineers chose Ruby on Rails as a framework suitable for projects requiring constant modifications and shifting of priorities. The agile development approach, followed in Anadea, also helped our team to achieve the needed level of flexibility and development speed.
After 3 month of hard work, the application was first released to the public under the name Buyfolio.
The first version of Buyfolio was already a good tool for home buyers and got a positive response from users but it was far from reaching its limits. The application could considerably grow the customer base if it had access to a massive real estate database, owned by NYC brokerage firms. Therefore, it was decided to direct our efforts on the development of functionality useful to brokers and agents.
The new scope of the project required adding a lot of new features and a larger team. Since that time 5 engineers – Dmitriy Dordovskiy, Alexander Rjazantsev, Pavel Mizonov and Anastasiya Yevstyunicheva headed by Andrey Mashkov – took up the work on Buyfolio.
The development team was highly responsive to customer feedback. Lots of ideas suggested by brokers and home buyers were turned into innovative user-friendly solutions and included in Buyfolio. Because of a clear focus on clients’ needs and usability, the application was gaining popularity very quickly.
Buyfolio had many strong points. Here are some of them:
- Refined real estate information. We did a lot to improve the quality of home listings, complete information about building features, fix inaccuracies and errors.
- Flexible integration with web listings. Unlike other home search apps, Buyfolio allowed users to import properties from various real estate sites by copying links to listings into a folio.
- UI design. Every element of the application was designed with strong intention to give brokers and their clients a great user experience, make it intuitive and easy-to-use.
- Keeping track of multiple properties. Buyfolio stored clients’ search criteria and notified them about price or status changes and new properties matching their saved searches.
- Memory aid. The application remembered viewed properties, prevented adding duplicate entries, asked users for the reasons when they rejected listings and saved all their comments.
- Advanced search. The application provided advanced search capabilities that let users search homes by very specific criteria, e.g. whether pets are permitted, co-purchasing is allowed, etc.
- Team support for brokers and clients. Brokers and home buyers could link other people to a folio. Search results from both teams were consolidated in the shared folio which helped to eliminate the duplication of efforts.
- Real-time conversations. The application provided communication tools for real-time discussion of property listings available via web and mobile.
Buyfolio had a huge success in New York, after just one year in business over 2,000 agents signed up to use it. The large potential of Buyfolio’s collaboration tools was noticed by Zillow, the leading U.S. based real estate marketplace. On October 31, 2012, it was announced that Buyfolio was acquired by Zillow. This deal was an important step in Zillow’s strategy of expanding its suite of services for real estate professionals and home buyers.
Zillow’s acquisition of Buyfolio was a remarkable milestone for both of them and for the Anadea’s team as well. Despite the transition of ownership to Zillow, the project was still managed by Matthew and Susan Daimler and our engineers carried on the development process but it initiated the following exciting changes in the project’s life:
- Zillow’s resources and support opened up opportunities for faster growth and innovation.
- The project went beyond New York City and gained a nationwide scale.
- The application got a new name – Agentfolio.
In June 2013 Agentfolio was officially released in the new shape. The first markets to launch Agentfolio were Chicago, Boston and New York City. With time, the national expansion of the service involved also Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego and other cities.
The most thrilling challenges overcomed by our team on the way to Agentfolio’s successful release were:
- Integration with MLS and region-specific requirements. The application was initially focused on NYC real estate, which is entirely different market from the rest of the country – no single MLS, high demand for rentals, etc. We had to re-arrange NY property data in accordance with MLS, used by brokers in other U.S. cities. Besides, home-hunters in different regions have varied needs and wants. We adjusted our system to let users search by criteria significant for their region’s housing market.
- Exponential growth of database. The size of property database and the number of users were boosting with every new area covered by Agentfolio. There was a need to improve the database performance and capacity grately. We restructured the application and improved the database in multiple ways. One of major changes was switching from MySQL to PostgreSQL which allowed us to gain higher throughput and scalability.
- Complementing Ruby on Rails with Scala. We extracted the data processor, a part of the system responsible for digesting and arranging the listings data, into a separate application and developed it in a fast and modern language Scala. That option allowed us to scale application and the data processor independently. Now the whole system can consume up to 200,000 houses per hour and it is not a limit.
There were lots of other innovative engineering solutions that let us improve the performance of the system and meet the tough requirements of the U.S. real estate market.
The achievements of our software engineers were accomplished by an excellent work of our designers. The head of our design team Mikhail Bilenko, and his colleague Elena Syvokobylska put a lot of efforts to create a very clean and intuitive interface for Agentfolio. They have managed to organize diverse property data into handy views so that users could easily see and compare housing parameters. More than 100 mock-ups have been drawn for internal sections and behaviors of the application. Besides, they have made an incredibly user-friendly design for iPhone, Android and iPad apps to help agents and home buyers keep in touch on-the-go.
All those upgrades made it possible for Agentfolio to handle a great number of simultaneous users from all over the U.S. and bring valuable technological advancements in the home search process. As of the beginning of 2014, the application covered 24 MLS city areas and reached an impressive scale:
- 7,000 brokers and 32,000 home buyers signed up for the service,
- Almost 40,000 folios have been created,
- The property database stores over 2 million home listings and up to 1 million of those listings are updated every day,
- 15-20 thousand of new homes are added into the database daily.
Agentfolio receives a very positive feedback from industry analysts and users.
Matt Cohen, chief technologist at real estate consulting company Clareity Consulting, mentioned Agentfolio in his:
“This is a cool tool which Zillow acquired late last year, and the only active product on the market that I am aware of to acknowledge social buying. […] This is a big deal folks. Tools like this continue to chip away at the value of everything from the prospecting functions of the MLS to the relative usefulness of having listings on agent or MLS websites. It’s time for folks to recognize that it’s not important just to have the listing content – it’s about making it useful.”
The earlier versions of the application had many loyal supporters as well. One of them – Nile Lundgren, president at Dallien Realty, gives the following insight into Buyfolio on his :
“has proved extremely successful for me and my buyers in terms of searching, organization, and communication. The founder of Buyfolio, Matt Daimler is a friend of mine and I’m proud to see his work help buyers and brokers alike navigate the complicated sales process here in NYC.”
Agentfolio has passed a long way from a small NY based application to a large nationwide real estate solution. The Anadea team has been providing the technical support to the project throughout its entire life and we look forward reaching new heights with it. The expertise of our software engineers was growing along with the application scale. We have polished our skills in Scala and other state-of-the-art technologies and gained a valuable experience in development of massive solutions for data processing and collaboration.
It is a real pleasure to see the continuous progress and success of the project developed by our team!
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