Our team works at Finastra within the Canadian Mortgage Technology business. When deciding what idea we wanted to select for our hackathon we thought about some of the problems closer to home, within the mortgage/real estate industry. We wanted to ensure we were solving real user problems and looked at the Consumer Survey Results of the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation. We found that about one third of home buyers had concerns about affordability and didn’t know what they were getting into until much later in the process. A significant number of Canadians (92%) started their home search process online. This stressed on the need for innovation/redesigning of current digital tools. About half of first-time home buyers were not aware of the latest mortgage qualification rules. First-time home buyers particularly lack the knowledge and information that is needed prior to making real estate decisions. Again, we found an opportunity to make a platform that educates home buyers about the process and helps them make more informed decisions with confidence. With the growing millennial population we realized that a shifting demographic requires reinvention and rethinking of current offerings. Lastly, with the government of Canada having invited over a million new immigrants in the last 3 years and set to invite a further 1 million immigrants in the next 3 years, newcomers to Canada require tools, technology and most importantly knowledge on rules, qualification, affordability and the process more than anybody else. This way we wanted to build a single end-to-end platform that facilitates the entire home buying journey, catering to all Canadians but especially beneficial to first-time home buyers, millennials and newcomers to Canada.

What it does

PopBox is a digital marketplace for all needs real estate. It has tools tailored to buyer’s needs and lifestyle. This would involve recommending homes within the buyer’s affordability and which regions/neighbourhoods would suit their families. The application would create a large network of buyers, sellers, realtors, mortgage brokers and lawyers. A marketplace like Uber or Amazon but for real estate. With that, you can expect buyers to be more informed and in control of their decisions. This would be digital-first approach with capabilities like online document upload and e-signature. Importantly, with all the complicated jargon and decision making – fixed interest vs variable, having to choose between a big bank and a mortgage broker, mortgage prepayment privileges, penalties and all of that – education tools in the form of articles, videos and podcasts would be part of this application as well.

How we built it

We started by researching heavily about the problem. Ensuring that we solve real user problems was very important to us. This research involved talking to potential users (colleagues, friends and acquaintances) about home buying problems and a potential tool that could solve those. We employed a Design Thinking approach where we started building out a prototype or design mockup before starting to code. With the mockup, we began testing with a select group of users to gain early feedback and make improvements. Once we did about three rounds of iteration we started to code using the latest front-end frameworks - Angular 9, HTML 5 and CSS 3. On the back-end we used Java 8, Mongo DB and Spring Boot framework. At every point after a feature was completed, we tested the application for quality to ensure everything worked as expected.

Challenges we ran into

One of our main challenges was working in a team separated by time zones. This made coordination a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. Secondly, for the members from Romania, a good understanding of the Canadian real estate markets and the challenges that consumers face was vital - this required the team to spend more time doing research and understanding terms and procedures very specific to the Canadian market. Lastly, developing an algorithm to calculate mortgage payments, expenses and savings for mortgage affordability was an arduous process as the results needed to be accurate with minimal inputs from the user.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

One of our major wins is the feedback we received from a small network of home buyers, mortgage brokers and real estate lawyers. They had always been waiting for a product like this in the market and were excited for what's to come in the future. We also had the opportunity to share our idea within our business unit at Finastra (Canadian Mortgage Technology). We received extremely positive feedback and confidence from our colleagues and management that we were headed in the right direction. Lastly, although creating an animated demo video was something none of us had prior experience with, we were incredibly proud of the result and the story we told through it.

What we learned

We learned a great deal about challenges that Canadian home buyers face - from being in a highly competitive market to understanding the intricacies involved in the full home buying process. This inspired us to further dig deep into the problems and want to solve them.

What's next for PopBox

One of our ideas for the future of PopBox is to expand the user base further to include home inspectors, electricians and sellers of home products to enhance the journey even after the home is purchased. Secondly, to make the application more interactive, having the ability for buyers to ask questions through a chatbot would enable them to make faster decisions. We have also looked into the possibility of integrating with legacy systems such as Filogix Expert that about 17,000 Canadian mortgage brokers currently use. PopBox would push buyer applications directly into Filogix and give brokers an opportunity to connect with them faster and more easily thus monetizing on our solution.

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