Closing the Gap to Homeownership

Problem Background  

According to Simply Insurance, about 66% of Americans currently own a home. The independence and pride of owning your own home, while building equity, receiving tax benefits, and establishing stability, drive people to purchase a property. As of 2022, 26% of homebuyers were first-time homebuyers. Most first-time buyers begin their home buying process by searching online through websites like Zillow, Redfin, etc, not realizing that the home-buying experience begins before looking for a property. Below are quotes from the survey launched to understand why people struggle when buying a home for the first time:

“There were a lot of steps that I had no idea about during the process”

“Typically buyers are not prepared for the process”

“There were a lot of expenses I wasn’t aware of”

This lack of education and knowledge of the home-buying process can cause frustration, confusion, and stress for first-time homebuyers. 

Disparities in homeownership are especially significant by age and race. 65+ year-olds have the highest homeownership rate among all age groups at 79%, while homeownership under 35 years old is only 38%. The white homeownership rate is among the highest at almost 75%, while homeownership rates among Black and Hispanic groups are 45% and 48%, respectively. Ultimately, Homeownership is the principal source of wealth creation, thus, translates to an even larger wealth gap for younger generations and marginalized communities. 

First-time homebuyers should be educated on the home buying process and connected directly to resources that address barriers to home ownership, especially for younger generations and minoritized communities.

Research Insights

User Pain Points

Based on a preliminary user discovery survey with real estate agents and first-time homebuyers to validate this problem, the following key insights were found: 

  • On average, responders had little to moderate information about the home-buying process prior to purchasing a home.

Top 3 challenges in the home buying process:

  • Saving for a down payment 
  • Finding the right home/property
  • Improving credit score


  • “There were a lot of steps that I had no idea about during the process”
  • “We lived paycheck to paycheck so figuring out a down payment was almost impossible”
  • “I have been down this path several times and this last time has helped me fully understand that the better my credit score the lower the interest and favorable terms.”

We interviewed six users from the survey population:

Key insights:

  • 2 out of 6 identified as being or having real estate professional experience
  • 5 out of 6 own a home 
  • Purchased around or post COVID-19 pandemic
  • 6 out of 6 are 35 and under
  • 2 out of 6 identify as White/Caucasian; 4 out of 6 identify as Black/African American
  • 5 out of 6 chose the city and state to purchase their home because of affordability, familiarity with the area, and connections with family and/or friends.

Challenges & Quotes

  1. Saving for a down payment

            - User #3: “I personally found saving a large sum of cash to be the most difficult”

            - User #4: “Although many lenders have down payment assistance programs, individuals with higher debt-to- income ratios do not qualify for them. This then requires individuals to have to come up with down payment funds independently while simultaneously paying off debt and arranging for moving costs.”

         2. Real Estate Professional

          - User #2: “Finding a competent Real Estate agent is tough. The market is saturated with mediocre agents who are just looking for a commission”

          - User #4: “My real estate agent did not try hard enough. He primarily sold luxury homes but once he saw my budget, he only sent me 500 sqft condos … I ended up finding my home on my own and he did not negotiate the price or the contract …  instead of explaining the home buying process to me, he gave me a pamphlet to read …  my real estate agent didn’t even stay with me while I was signing my mortgage documents.”

         3. Credit score

          - User #5: “I was led to believe that if you have negative things on your credit, it would fall off in a few years and not really affect it. I was really upset when I had to go back and pay those things off.”

          - User #6: “A lot of my potential clients have credit issues which prevents them from getting a pre-approval, even if they can comfortably pay the mortgage based on their existing expenses.”

         4. Lack of Knowledge

          - User #2: “The whole system is stacked against you to maximize how much you spend because they want to make more money.”

          - User #6 “For the most part, first-time home buyers do not know anything. I typically have to re-explain things


According to preliminary user research, first-time homebuyers are unaware of the home buying process, and several factors hinder and/or delay their home purchase. Creating a product that will educate first-time homebuyers on the homebuying process, and connect them to resources that mitigate barriers to homeownership, will empower first-time homebuyers to be confident and make informed decisions while navigating the homebuying process.   

Landing on a Solution

Market research, user insights, and user pain points led to the development of the product, which educates and connects first-time buyers to resources that will facilitate a seamless homebuying process. The hypothesis is that if first-time buyers are informed and have access to resources that can help them navigate challenges during the homebuying process, they will experience greater confidence in finalizing their home purchase. It will allow first-time homebuyers to make more informed decisions and decrease their frustrations during the homebuying process. Due to technical feasibility and time constraints, the scope of the resources are those that is available nationally and in the state of Florida. 

The Solution

HomeStretch is a web app that educates first-time homebuyers on the homebuying process and connects them to resources that eliminate barriers to homeownership.

HomeStretch has four key features:


  • The homepage serves as the main entry point for the web app. It is designed to give first-time homebuyers a quick overview of what the website is all about, what it offers, and what they can expect to find on it.


  • The profile is a personal representation of users and provides full access to all features on the HomeStretch platform. Users will answer a questionnaire about their demographics, income, credit, and home preferences. Once the profile is completed, HomeStretch will provide tailored recommendations and updates. This facilitates a more personalized experience for users.

Education Center 

  • The Education Center is an online learning platform of up-to-date content taught by Real Estate Industry Leaders aimed at informing first-time home buyers on each step of the home buying process. It provides short, instructional courses, quizzes to reinforce comprehension, and additional resources to deepen understanding. This interactive experience enables first-time buyers to develop confidence in the home-buying process.


  • The Resources tool is a culmination of national and Florida-based resources aimed to eliminate barriers to homeownership for first-time homebuyers. These resources include information about different loan types, credit repair, down payment assistance, closing cost programs, tax credits, and mortgage lenders.

Low fidelity & Hi Fi Mockups

Iterative Design Learnings

To gain feedback on user experience of the platform, an unmoderated usability test was conducted with the Hi-Fidelity design. The usability test was conducted with 3 participants who were asked to perform 5 basic tasks.

  • Create an account 
  • Fill in their profile information after creating an account
  • Navigate to their profile page and make necessary updates to their profile
  • Visit the education center, take a course and complete the quiz
  • Navigate to the first-time homebuyer loan resource article

Insights From Usability Test

The users understood that the purpose of the platform was to educate people, particularly first-time homebuyers, on the homebuying process. They found the platform very intuitive and easy to navigate.

Feedback From the Participant.

  • “The visual design was done well and very clear. It's not too cluttered and everything seems to be where it should be making it easy to navigate. Although taking a course on the learning center wasn't exactly clear to me initially”
  • “ As a real estate agent, I would expect to see information about how to get started, maybe articles about preparing for saving or making sure your credit is where it needs to be, the different types of available loans and maybe the steps in homebuying.”
  • “I would like the courses on the learning center to be more clear that those are educational contents for homebuyers.”
  • “It was pretty easy to navigate the platform. I like the visual design, it feels professional and well laid out. Informations are very easy to find”

After receiving feedback from users, we iterated on the design to address their concerns.

Implementation Details 

Technical implementation

  • Where is it hosted? 
  • What is your tech stack?
  • Ruby on Rails, PostgreSQL, React, Redux

Technical challenges

  • What was the hardest part of development?
  • During this project we had this chance to implement some features that we hadn’t experience implementing something similar to them before. Fore example we spent a few days figuring out how to create a document editor with the maximum capabilities like text edit, media embed, etc. Finally we ended up using CKEditor which is a strong tool and helped us to have a reliable content management system and avoid having multiple forms for multiple purposes.
  • Does your app have any scaling issues?
  • Since we are using a free service for hosting our application we have some constraints like having only 3 months of hosting service, having limited bandwidth, etc. 
  • What are some key takeaways?
  • It’s been great to implement all our knowledge and skills in a project and make our understanding more solid. We also gained some new experience by implementing new features like document editor.  

Future Steps

Our team is in the process of discussing the next steps. We found the experience to be both enjoyable and educational and received positive feedback from users about the usefulness of the platform. If we continue to advance the platform, our goal is to improve existing features, add new ones based on user feedback, and launch a mobile version for added convenience.


Product Manager Learnings:

Krystal Muckle

  • Hands-on Experience: Prior to Co.Lab, I had a theoretical understanding of product management after completing various courses. This bootcamp gave me the opportunity to build a product with Developers and a Designer to solve a real world problem. This experience was both challenging and rewarding, and I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in it.
  • Working on a Cross-Functional Team: As a Product Manager, inspiring and motivating your team is critical, particularly when you are leading without direct authority. Although I was eager to launch this project within eight weeks, I came to understand that product management entails much more than simply setting deadlines and expecting the team to meet them. When working with a diverse, cross-functional team, each member has unique motivations and objectives, making it vital to align on the shared vision, foster collaboration, and establish strong relationships with team members.
  • Communication: Communication played a critical role in the success of our global team. Despite the hurdles of coordinating across three time zones (with a six-hour time difference), accommodating diverse working styles, overcoming cultural differences, and working asynchronously, we faced challenges in communicating throughout the eight-week project. Nevertheless, our team was able to unite and successfully launch the project.

Designer Learnings:

Samuel Abah

Co.lab was a great experience for me. I’ve been able to build on some of my technical skills and I’ve gotten a feel of what it’s like to work in a cross functional team. 

  • I learnt how to better communicate my design decision to team members.
  • The experience from Co.lab has helped me understand certain challenges team members face working in a cross functional team and how to navigate such challenges. 

Developer Learnings:

Jeremiah Joseph

It was interesting to experience something close to real world projects and feel how challenging it can sometimes be. It was a great opportunity to benchmark your soft and technical skills and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I detected some areas, especially in my soft skills that I can improve, like communication skills, time management, etc.

Developers Learnings:

Behnam Aghaali


Full Team Learning

We learned the importance of clear communication and teamwork. Although challenging at times, we were open and expressive about individual ideas, transparent and honesty sharing constructive feedback, and took accountability for actions. 

The significance of pivoting became evident to us during our project. When unexpected technical issues arose, we shifted our strategy to overcome these challenges. Pivoting required us to be flexible, to respond quickly, and to determine what was most crucial. This allowed us to concentrate on the core features of our product and launch successfully

Collaborating with a team composed of people with diverse backgrounds and varying work styles can present both difficulties and opportunities. A key challenge for us was harmonizing differing work practices and modes of communication. However, this diversity meant that we each brough unique experiences, skillsets, and ideas to the table. Through problem-solving, understanding, and the willingness to work together, we were able to navigate these challenges and achieve success.