Fast-moving real estate. Real-time experience.
In cities all over Canada, homes were selling faster than you can say two-car garage. But aging software was costing RE/MAX brokers precious hours – and ultimately sales. The company tapped Slalom Build to help create a new ingestion model and a fast, scalable website that keeps up with the market.
User Experience Design, Site Architecture & Design, Mobile Development, DevOps, SEO, Solution Ownership, Serverless Implementation
AWS Lambda, AWS CloudFront, AWS DynamoDB, Angular, Angular Universal, New Relic, Sumo Logic
Taking control with a technology-first mindset
If you’ve ever thought about buying a home in Canada (or anywhere in North America, for that matter) odds are, you’ve searched RE/MAX. With hundreds of thousands of listings, it’s one of the largest real estate companies around. In fact, every single address in Canada has its very own page on ReMax.ca.
And while RE/MAX has been THE real estate authority for decades, upstarts like Zolo, Zillow, and Royal LePage have become serious competitors with faster, more robust online experiences. In 2017, sellers all over Canada were getting multiple offers within 24 hours of listing and brokers were ready to seize the sales. But all too often, listings wouldn’t post to the RE/MAX website within the typical 48 hours – and even when they did, 20 percent of them didn’t turn up in search results. That’s not good if you’re a broker trying to make a sale – and the company started seeing a pretty significant dip in online traffic.
What’s more, RE/MAX had already tried its hand with some easy fixes for the website and a few flashy features for its brokers. But a new coat of paint had only masked the troubles. It seems that every new technology solution was taking a toll on the network, and RE/MAX was exasperated to the point of shifting budget away from the website and into billboards and television.
We had previously worked with RE/MAX on two projects – their new broker and company mobile experiences – so they once again put their faith in our team to rebuild the much more complex customer-facing site. Leveraging AWS, Slalom Build delivered a serverless listing ingestion pipeline that can import hundreds of thousands of listing, agent, and brokerage updates every day. AND make them available on the website in near-real-time. The new serverless platform offers sleek, modern functionality that draws more views from buyers and reinvigorates the RE/MAX brand as a formidable online competitor.
Earning trust. Innovating a modern web experience.
But let’s back up. Rearchitecting a website that sees more than two million visitors a day is no small feat. There is simply no room for downtime or error – especially in a red-hot real estate market. Complicating the project was the fact that there were a variety of audiences, as well as inputs. Agents, brokers, buyers & sellers were all users of the site – and if it’s not functioning as it should, they’ll find alternate resources. Brokers in particular are not keen on disruptions and delays, and many were sending their customers to personal or even competitor sites. Underneath all that, the site needs to pull in data quickly and accurately on hundreds of thousands of listings.
While RE/MAX knew it needed to innovate, the company was understandably cautious. Twice before, it had launched new websites, but both projects had run over schedule, over budget, and yielded results that hadn’t turned out as promised. Since then, the company had been reusing and repurposing what they already had – and an understandable hesitation to rip things out and start over was holding it back. Slalom Build had a lot to accomplish when it came to this rebuild, from vetting features, boosting SEO results, and completely replacing the RE/MAX website with zero business disruption.
Thanks to our partnership on the mobile site and broker Launchpad experiences, the Slalom Build team already possessed important insights on how to bring better value to RE/MAX. And we were excited to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
It’s all in the foundation
To envision the new website, we needed to learn the ins and outs of the supremely complex real estate business – so a team of UX designers, solution architects, and solution owner started with a six-week discovery. Side by side with RE/MAX, we sought to really understand the users and reconsider the existing site from a primarily broker-focused perspective. While features added over the years had seemed exciting at the time, the reality was that many of them were just lawn ornaments – they weren’t being used and wouldn’t be missed. At the same time, we found opportunities for new features that really would be useful for buyers and brokers alike – like an interactive map that drills down to street level to show neighborhood businesses, schools, parks, and other points of interest.
The discovery process also laid the groundwork to allowed us to develop smart user flows and a clean, consistent front-end experience. To provide users with the robust (and complex) real estate information and services, the team built a Single Page Application on top of a set of APIs that hooked into a serverless backend on AWS. Using the newest microservices, we connected the site with all sorts of third-party data providers – multiple listing service (MLS), location services, Google Maps, and many, many more.
“This project was a big investment for us. And we’re really gaining trust that we’re doing the right thing. The General Manager of Western Canada stood up last week and his exact words were that we had ‘knocked it out of the park.'”
DIRECTOR OF TECHNOLOGY, RE/MAX INTEGRA NORTH AMERICA
Then there was the platform itself. Batch-based data-intake pipelines were slowing down the listing ingestion process. We rolled out an enterprise-grade AWS deployment with a CI/CD pipeline, segregated environments, access control, infrastructure as code, and leveraged APM tools such as New Relic, and Sumo Logic to provide operational insights.
One of the biggest project goals revolved around boosting always-critical SEO results. But single-page applications don’t score well with search engines. After researching and testing a few front-end options, the team landed on Angular Universal in parallel with Angular, which augmented the single page experience with a server-rendered version of the page to enable the best possible SEO rankings and user experience.
When we started the engagement, RE/MAX had one year left on an existing provider contract. Together, we discovered, built, and tested during that time to ensure a seamless transition – so that when the site was ready, we were able to unplug the old and turn on the new with no interruption in the site’s heavy traffic. And that’s precisely what we did.
Complete with the white picket fence
Deployments can be tricky. Deployments of this scope and scale, exponentially so. Even after the code’s been rechecked, the analytics analyzed, the Ts crossed and the Is dotted, it’s always wise to prepare for, well, something. So, the team was ready to tackle any eventuality. And when the final proverbial switch was flipped, they were stunned. It was absolutely, positively anticlimactic. Boring even. No hiccups, no delays. Simply smooth sailing. In fact, over the course of the project, our teams became so integrated that by the time the cork was popped we were about two weeks ahead of schedule. And best of all the whole thing came in under budget.
In the end we delivered the new ReMax.ca on a cost-effective microservices architecture that handles thousands of requests per minute. RE/MAX can now manage its own site, which has allowed the company to end an expensive managed services contract, and it’s seeing vastly improved SEO rankings. (Turns out selling houses is easier when people can find them.) But perhaps most importantly, the time between listing and posting has dropped dramatically from 48 hours to just 2. And that gives agents and brokers the best possible tools for putting people into their dream homes.