Making it easier for people to chart a course through the property market
A technology company at the forefront of property data, Homesearch helps property professionals work more efficiently and with greater confidence. Homesearch works to create a more informed, connected, and proactive property market, for everyone.
Homesearch uses Google Maps Platform to power its map-led property intelligence platform, helping professionals and the public to intuitively explore comprehensive real estate data with ease.
Buying a home is one of the most important transactions a person can make. But if you’re new to the property market, it can feel like a whirlwind of information, with all sorts of hidden costs and unclear information. Based in the UK, Homesearch aims to change the way people look for property online, and help them navigate the market more easily.
“When you’re looking for a property, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the information coming your way,” says Giles Ellwood, CEO at Homesearch. “We give people a way to access the information they need, in an intuitive, easy to use format.”
As a map-centered, real estate research platform, Homesearch carries data on 28.8 million properties across the UK. With two tiers of service, one for professionals and one for the public, Homesearch allows its users to access a comprehensive, verified wealth of data, with a unique and intuitive interface, powered by Google Maps Platform.
“We wanted to build a map-led search tool that could visualize and contextualize the data we’ve compiled on millions of properties across the UK,” says Giles. “With Google Maps Platform, we found a solution that allows our users to get the information they need as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
Big data, frictionless search
Homesearch is revolutionary for two key reasons. The first is the sheer scale of its ambitions. The initial challenge for Homesearch was simply getting all the data it needed. Building on Giles’ previous work as a publisher, the company began collecting all the publicly available data about the 28.8 million properties in the UK from a range of public sources such as the Land Registry. “Finding 200 properties to target from a list of 10,000 is actually quite easy,” says Giles. “It turns out that what’s really challenging is finding out everything about one specific property. We wanted to gather together all of that information, and then store it all in one place for people to research.”
While this is simple in theory, in practice, the public data is often inaccurate and requires extensive “cleaning” to remove duplicates, misspellings, or other inconsistencies. Even then, there might still be gaps. Homesearch decided to model the best possible estimates using data science and machine learning. The company spent two years building up its data stores and team of data scientists to build the best possible bank of property information.
The company’s second revolutionary goal is to change the way people search for property. It knew that presenting all that data properly to its customers was just as important as compiling it. “Online searches have been common in the UK for the best part of 20 years now and they tend to have the same rigid structure,” says Giles. “Step one, you plug in the area you want. Step two, you add a set of filters, on price, for example, or number of bedrooms. Step three, you press “Go” and the search engine lists all the properties that match the criteria you had. It’s methodical, but also quite restrictive. We wanted to display our information in a more open way.”
Homesearch’s vision was to put a map at the center of the property search, allowing users to add whatever filters they wanted, but to roam freely around the areas they were interested in. “It’s about building a much more fluent, open search experience for our users,” says Giles.
To make that vision a reality, Homesearch evaluated the most popular mapping solutions available, both open source and commercial. Google Maps Platform proved the clear winner for its reliability, ease of use, and familiarity with users. “When you’re trying to change a behavioral pattern such as the way people search, you need an intuitive user experience,” says Sam Hunter, COO at Homesearch. “You want as smooth an experience and as few barriers as possible. When people think of online maps, they think of Google Maps. It was the obvious solution for us.”
“I really love how customizable Google Maps Platform is,” says Giles. “We can tweak everything about it to fit within our brand and there’s no performance loss at all. We’ve made it blend really well with the rest of our site’s user interface.”
An intelligence platform for professionals, a data resource for the public
After a year and a half of development, Homesearch trialed its first product in January, 2019. Named Homesearch Pro, it’s a research platform aimed at professionals who want to access the data that the company has compiled. The initial plan was to present the product for free to a small number of agents, generating conversations and customer feedback, then launch more widely as a mature product much later.
However, by noon on the day of its “soft” launch, Homesearch Pro already had 1,000 registered users. “It was crazy! We were getting new companies joining every few seconds,” recalls Giles. “We only had a development API agreement with Google Maps Platform, and by the next morning, we had blown through its limits. That’s when we knew we needed help.”
Homesearch turned to Google Cloud Premier Partner Snowdrop Solutions and its team of experts who specialize in location-based services and often work with the property industry. Snowdrop Solutions not only helped Homesearch to re-establish its service for an eager audience, but also to plan for a bigger scale of service.
A year later, the company had successfully transitioned Homesearch Pro into a monetized product with more than 5,000 professional users. Homesearch engaged extensively with its estate agent clients about what worked and what could be improved about the platform. “After a year of use, estate agents and property professionals were giving us some really useful feedback,” says Giles. “What we were hearing again and again was that there was a lot of scope for this kind of product for the general public.”
Instead of a spreadsheet of data about each property, or a rigid and cumbersome selection process, Homesearch’s emphasis on map-led navigation gives potential buyers and renters the freedom to explore options they might not consider otherwise. Combining its formidable data processing capabilities with Google Maps Platform allows Homesearch to build a product that gives its users the highest quality information in a clear, easy to understand manner.
“We have around 24 billion items of information on more than 28 million properties,” says Giles. “With Google Maps Platform, we can let customers display that data in a clear, easily understood geographical context. It’s so quick and simple to use that customers can search in a much freer way than before.”
Homesearch is hard at work perfecting its new public property search tool ahead of its official launch in September, 2020. In the meantime, it’s always on the lookout for new ways to optimize its features, and new strategies for growth. To prepare itself for growth, the company has migrated much of its infrastructure to Google Kubernetes Engine instances, for improved scalability and lower management overhead. In the medium term, once Homesearch Pro is fully launched, the company will be looking to optimize its platform for mobile devices in addition to its web app, with a range of APIs on Google Maps Platform. “I think the future for us will be a more visual experience centered on the phone,” says Sam. “That’s why we like Google Maps Platform so much, because it works just as well on phones as on desktops. We’re striving to be the source of truth for people, whatever device they’re using.”