Apps are a great opportunity for real estate brands to connect directly with their customers through a medium that’s never far from the modern consumer’s reach: the smartphone. And apps can be especially useful for real estate brokers, for whom relationships with buyers and sellers are an integral part of business.
However, when it comes to developing a branded app, there’s a lot to consider, and one of the first choices you’ll be faced with is whether to use existing ready-made SaaS solutions or build an entirely new customized app for your brand. If you opt to build a new app, you can employ a freelance development shop and pay for their time and expertise, or you can hire or reassign internal developers to work on the new app.
While there certainly are benefits to building your own app, Segment CEO and founder Peter Reinhardt advises brands to always buy first if you can. “You should only be building your own tool if you’ve tried lots of others on the market and find that none of them will solve your problem,” he says.
Build vs. Buy: 5 Signs Buying May Be Best
Below, we’ll break down five times that buying is better than building.
1. When the project is cost-sensitive.
There’s no fixed cost for building an app — it depends on a lot of different factors, including the following:
- Whether you’re building for iOS, Android or both
- What team you’ll require to build the app
- What functions your app will perform
There’s a lot to consider here. For example, if you’re building exclusively for iOS you can control expenses by focusing on a single platform. However, if you want to get maximum usage out of your app, especially outside of America, you’ll need to consider Android as well. Because each platform has their own requirements and best practices, covering both can add significant cost and time.
In addition to this, your app needs to connect with the data you’ve collected and integrate with other data sources. For example, by linking customer preferences to features like neighborhood walk score, school district information, and local amenities, your app becomes more valuable to users. The only caveat is this type of integration is time consuming and intricate to complete.
Another challenge is designing the app’s usability. It needs to be as user-friendly as possible to ensure that real estate agents don’t just use it occasionally but come to rely on it to help them manage their business effectively. Taking the time to decide what types of features agents need and how these features should function, takes away from running other aspects of your business. Plus, getting your app listing in the Apple App and Google Play stores doesn’t happen overnight. There are lots of steps in the listing process.
Buying an app that already comes with key features — like the ability for agents to share properties with clients and calculate estimated mortgage payments — save you time and money that would otherwise be spent building and testing your own app.
Large-scale IT projects like app development go over budget nearly half the time, according to research by McKinsey Digital. Seventeen percent of these projects become so costly or go so poorly that they “threaten the very existence of the company,” according to the same survey.
Another benefit of buying an app instead of building one from scratch is that you won’t be financially responsible for fixing potential bugs or managing product updates. Often, these updates can cost as much as the app’s actual development, and app updates are typically required on a regular basis. But when you purchase an app, you can stipulate that you get these fixes and updates included without any extra cost.
2. When time is an important factor.
It takes a great deal of time to design and develop an app and conduct product testing. While there’s no average length of time needed to create a custom app, award-winning agency Savvy says the general answer it provides clients is four to six months. However, apps with many features will require more time than those with a narrower scope, and budget often determines an app’s development timeline.
Plus, it’s not unusual for large-scale projects like app development to extend past the delivery date.
Apps take time to gain approval in their respective app stores. Working with a proven app publisher that knows how to navigate the publishing process for each platform can greatly reduce the amount of time between completing development and an app being listed publicly.
3. When your best talent could be used in other areas.
When deciding between buying and building an app, it’s important to consider the opportunity cost. In other words, what are you giving up when you choose to spend time and money in the development of an app?
Investing resources into building custom software means that you’re directing those resources — including money, energy, and employees — away from your core: serving your customers’ real estate needs.
4. When you lack special domain expertise.
One of the biggest benefits of opting to buy rather than build an app is that you’ll be working with already-existing software that’s been designed and tested by a knowledgeable provider. So you’re getting more than just the app itself — you’re getting the accompanying expertise.
Building your own app also means becoming a data expert to ensure that content is up to date and accurate. Managing data is a challenge because there can be:
- Multiple data streams to consider
- Incomplete data to account for
- Multiple layers of user permissions to be aware of
- Compliance with broker branding to incorporate
- State regulations to understand
- Fair housing rules to consider
The list goes on. It’s best to leave these considerations to teams that specialize in app development and buy something that gives you peace of mind and helps agents manage their business.
Not only is the technology already in existence, but by purchasing software, you’ll have access to the experts behind it. This means you’ll receive a tried-and-tested product, and you’ll also have resources available to answer questions and provide necessary training.
5. When your brand is in a competitive market.
Your search app represents your brand and having the second or third best app in the market won’t do. Users don’t want to install multiple home search apps so competing to become the search app of choice in a local market is often a zero-sum game.
Consumers have very high expectations for search and communication features and aren’t going to settle for an average experience if a better one is available. If your app isn’t best in class, there can be a negative impact on your brand.
Agents are also looking for a home where they have the very best productivity tools available to them. Having fast access to their MLS while on the go, in an app that’s easy to use, is critical and providing one can offer real estate firms a very effective recruiting tool.
There’s no benefit to re-creating what already exists.
When debating whether to buy or build an app, carefully consider what it is you need your app to do. Then, familiarize yourself with the market to determine whether what you need already exists.
Developers have already spent years learning these platforms and the same goes for the many third-party app solutions available today. So it makes sense to leverage what’s already been created and refined rather than investing time and resources in rebuilding it from scratch.
In other words, why reinvent the wheel?
Buy vs. build: Do you have a choice?
Before you take on the cost and time commitment of building an app from scratch, Reinhardt encourages businesses to consider whether there’s any other option. “Only build if you’re left without a choice,” he advises.