The mobile property searching environment has become a little more heated with the launch of a significant campaign promoting KiwiBank's Home Hunter app for iPhone and Android. The app was originally launched late last year but seemed at the time to suffer from data integration issues which have now been fixed and with that has come this recent promotion.
It is by no means the only foray into this space by the main retail banks eager to establish closer relationships with home buyers. ASB launched an app back in 2012 which was based on the data from QV which was a rather weak experience and appeared to 'wither on the vine' - I still have it on my iPhone but its lack of data integration leads to it crashing - it is also not in the app store. It is interesting as an example of how to manage the retirement of an app as of course the actual app lives on even when you delete it from the store and your brand therefore is tarred with the implied experience of it not working!
Westpac have been active in this space but rather than build an app chose to partner with both Realestate.co.nz and Trade Me Property to sponsor those apps. They also in my mind built an excellent service called Home Club which with a data integration with Trade Me Property enables the user to scrapbook properties and receive property insight data from QV.
The Home Hunter app from KiwiBank works well as far as data integration which it receives through a data feed from Realestate.co.nz which provides the most comprehensive portfolio of agent listings. However I struggle to see the value in the app for the general property "hunter", except for one very sweet aspect.
I believe that the team at KiwiBank (I use the term specifically as there is a Facebook page for the team!) have rushed off in their excitement to develop the app, grabbed some "shiny objects" along the way but have not stopped to think about the user and what the user might find useful. Here is my take on the app - the pros and cons.
1. Shiny object #1 - the name 'home hunter' goes along with the functionality of the augmented reality capability that allows you to see property around you overlayed with details of property for sale. There is a small circular 'radar' image that tells you if you are near to property for sale. However the whole experience is a classic case of a technology seeking a solution - you have to ask yourself do you want to walk around holding your phone up in front of you? The better solution is the map based presentation of Realestate.co.nz - better to have people look down at a map of where they are and see what is around them for sale.
(As a friendly note to KiwiBank, there is a terrible unexpected consequence of this feature; if as I did, you give up using this feature from the drop down menu and close the app, when you next start the app again you immediately think something is wrong or broken because all you get is the phone's camera with no context of the app).
2. Shiny object #2 - the sun finder feature is one of those functionalities that you go "interesting to know but not something I need everyday!" - it shows the trajectory of the sun relative to the time of year wherever you are standing. Now maybe I am wrong, but not really that compelling; after all what you need to know is where is north and any Sky satellite dish will tell you that.
3. Sweet Honey - the app will provide you with an estimated price range for every property on the market - now that is compelling and appealing!
However. yes there always has to be a however; you need to get a pre-approval from KiwiBank. Now I would think if I was thinking of buying what harm could there be in being pre-approved? After all the estimated price range for every property you look at that is on the market is compelling and considering the cost of a one-by-one request of QV for this data would be $49.95, the trade off of 10 mins of your time and providing your details to KiwiBank as compared to hundreds of dollars of cost for multiple property e-valuer estimates, is a no brainer - where do I apply? Added to this KiwiBank highlight with a little green tick properties that in principle they would lend against.
4. Dead end - the app despite having all this rich set of listings of property on the market and estimated price range, fails at the core benefit of a tool to find property for sale and to contact the agent. Instead of having the agent details on each listing, the app has to open up the whole listing as a app browser-window from Realestate.co.nz for you to have to scroll down to find the agent contact details within that listing.
5. Disorientation - I have in the past bemoaned the Trade Me Property app as it does not put the map based search front and centre on its app, burying it as a secondary functionality. Almost 100% of real estate mobile apps the world over (inc Realestate.co.nz) launch into a map. It's logical. It's a mobile device with built in GPS. Sadly KiwiBank goes one huge leap backwards and has no map on their app!
So in summary, this Home Hunter app has one killer piece of functionality that in my view outweighs a stack of poor user delivered functionality. So if you are serious about buying, get a pre-approval and use the app from your desk at the office or at home, and then when you are out an about to view property use the Realestate.co.nz app.
As an extra piece of insight I thought I would have a look at the level of downloads for this app as compared to the main portal apps. The chart below tracks (via App Annie) the ranking of downloads of the 3 apps over the past 30 days. Clearly the advertising campaign is working for KiwiBank, they are the most downloaded app for property at this time. For Realestate.co.nz it's a steady rate of downloads on top of the more than 200,000 to date, whereas Trade Me Property whilst benefiting from a spike in downloads after the relaunch in April, is struggling a bit in 3rd place.