Hi friends (and new readers 👋🏼), Steven here. This is Product Matters, a semi-regular newsletter on Products and Strategy. Each issue I try to share something I’ve written – usually on the topics of products, digital strategy, and design.
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Surprise! For the last few weeks we have been in the process of buying a house. This may come as a shock to a few people as I’ve previously written about my thoughts on renting vs. buying, but I think I’ve stuck true to my principles in our purchase. We weren’t considering it a financial decision so much as a personal one. We had a very specific set of criteria: inner city, yard (of any size), garage or basement for a squat rack, not an apartment. This made renting a longshot - there weren’t many properties that met the criteria. While we still need to waive conditions this week, we plan to move in 6 weeks.
The first place we looked at was For Sale By Owner. She listed the property herself using a service like ComFree or Property Guys. We had passed by the townhouse while walking the dogs one day and got ourselves a showing a few hours later. We got to ask her a few questions about the place and learn more about why she was selling.
After that, we went home to deliberate. It became clear pretty quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know what questions to ask, what to look out for, how to make an offer, and more. I’m normally quite confident in my decision-making capabilities. I’ll do the research and trust my own judgement formed through first-hand investigation.
This time, I felt uneasy. I wasn’t confident. I was lost. What if I was missing something obvious?
At Versett we often see middlemen (travel agents, realtors, brokers) as opportunities for technology to improve the customer experience. In the past, these individuals acted as gatekeepers to important information that’s now made publicly available. If you are willing to spend the time, you can plan your own trip for faster at the best price. With a bit of research, you can get the best mortgage rate. And as I was experiencing, you could even buy a house directly from a seller and skipping all the commission. So what was my problem? Couldn’t I just learn everything from the website and by using digital tools?
Ironically, I co-wrote a piece for the Versett website a few weeks ago about this very topic. The value humans add to an experience is about more than sharing information. They can provide expertise, conversation, and help create an enjoyable experience. A realtor could guide me through this uncertainty and ensure I covered my bases.
And yet, when buying a home, I believed realtors were a wasted cost. I arrogantly assumed I could just figure it out on my own.
When you buy something from someone, especially online, there’s a lot of trust involved. You need to trust the person is accurately representing their product. You need to trust they will give you that product. You need to trust that your money or transaction will be secure. And trust is notoriously hard to build with strangers, especially quickly. So how do you do it online?
When I spoke to the head of ecommerce at Article a few months ago, he mentioned that building a DTC (direct-to-consumer) furniture company has its challenges. The biggest one is trust. Existing retailers have the benefit of physical stores to help build awareness and trust. If you know IKEA is a legitimate operation, you’re more willing to buy from them online. If you’re not, you can go into a store to assuage your uncertainty. If you’re selling online? You only have things like transparency, visual design, and social proof at your disposal.
When I was talking to my partner about making a decision, we quickly realized we should get a realtor. I had experienced the doubt and uncertainty firsthand and knew that research and technology alone would not help me make this purchase. Trust was the biggest barrier for me completing a direct home-buying transaction, and hiring a realtor helped me feel sure that we were making the right decision.
PS: We didn’t end up buying the FSBO house anyway.
I saw this meme the other day and felt it perfectly describe me and my back situation.
I’ve struggled to keep up with the continuous writing that Write of Passage forced upon me. That said, I have the benefit of slowly sharing my two remaining pieces over the next couple of issues. This piece was my fourth for the course and is unlike anything I’ve written. It’s fairly personal and is about representation in the media. Our prompt this time was “How is the/your world changing?”. Let me know what you think.
“Who are you buying this for: the person you are, or the person you want to be? This should’ve been the question I’d asked before buying each and every one of them. This should’ve been the question I’d asked before buying anything.” - Cait Flanders, The Year of Less
I’m continuing to fiddle with the format of this area.
That’s all for this time. I’m always looking for feedback on both my writing and my ideas. Have something on your mind? Just reply to this email.
I would love to hear from you. I read every response.