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First American Financial Corporation can trace its history back to 1889, when the incorporation of Orange County, California spurred the need for title services in the newly defined region. Now, First American operates in nearly 70 countries and has significantly expanded their services. Best-in-class real estate data solutions may be a comparatively modern element of their business, but it’s also aligned with the essential nature of their mission: to facilitate and streamline real estate transactions.
First American provides a wide range of real estate transaction resources, including and far beyond the title insurance and professional settlement services that have made up the heart of their business for decades. Their enterprise clients can access an array of reports, billions of recorded documents, and complete databases of property records.
But enterprise-level companies aren’t the only ones that can make use of this information. Small and mid-sized real estate businesses – including underwriters, insurers, investment companies, and realtor groups – also have a pressing need for the kind of data First American can put at one’s fingertips. So, First American they decided to create a brand-new division and product line, making their resources more accessible to the SMB real estate market. The goal was to wrap a new website around their existing DataTree product, and provide access to their database through monthly subscription tiers.
BigCommerce (First American’s ecommerce platform of choice) didn’t have the out-of-the-box functionality to support this subscription business model. However, BigCommerce is a flexible platform, allowing for customizations that can provide additional functionality. This also makes it easier to connect with systems that don’t have their own BigCommerce apps. First American engaged Guidance to create the solution for them, while also designing an elevated user experience that would complement First American’s existing branding and meaningfully engage the SMB audience.
In real estate, staging is the act of decorating a home to present it in the best possible light for a sale. In the case of this project, the front end experience needed its own kind of staging, to deliver a fresh, convenient interface. It also needed to look like it was aligned with the existing website; however, the process afforded the opportunity to reconsider some of First American’s existing branding elements.
For the new site’s shopping experience, Guidance created an elevated look and feel that featured helpful product icons and report samples, plus an easy-to-use search interface. For the property reports, Guidance enhanced their presentation by pulling images from Google Street View into the reports. Adjustments for formatting purposes were automated, including exposure levels, aspect ratios, for example.
Guidance advised First American’s internal design team on the changes from the existing branding that were made for the new site, and documented them in a detailed style guide. The guide was also created for use as a resource to apply styling changes to other areas of the First American web presence.
The design of First American’s subscription model is straightforward. Clients choose from a set of subscription tiers, and receive a certain amount of credits for downloading reports each month. Individual reports have a fixed price, and each subscription tier offers a discount on the fixed price. More expensive tiers offer greater discounts.
However, First American’s existing platforms presented a challenge to creating this model. BigCommerce could accommodate orders for multiple SKUs with digital delivery, but only if the content of those SKUs was predefined (no SKU variations). However, First American needed to offer an exponential number of variations on a given SKU – one for every property address nationwide. Further, any solution that directed clients to a third-party’s website, or directly called back end data from the front end, wouldn’t be feasible because of the security risk.
Guidance determined that a custom middleware integration could make the subscription model possible for First American. The middleware solution was built using .NET Core within their pre-existing Azure environment, which was the easiest way to assure they could manage it on their own after deployment. The middleware proxies to other services used by First American and mediates between them, including BigCommerce; their proprietary SSO service; and their DataTree property records database.
From the front-end perspective, customers begin a property search on the website. The list of records, documents, and reports available for a given property are displayed, along with links to an example of each. Multiple items can be ordered at once, with a direct payment or a deduction from subscription credits.
Behind the scenes, auto-complete functionality assists with the customer’s property search, and a Google Street View image is injected into the product display page for the search result. An API call is validated through the middleware and passed to DataTree, which returns a list of available items for purchase. Adding selected items to the cart is also cued with an API call from the front end, connected by the middleware integration to DataTree and BigCommerce’s own API. Order completion is handled, depending on the payment type, through First American’s payment gateway for individual purchases, or through the subscription management features built into the custom middleware solution Guidance created.
After the items are ordered, customers can view them online in their account and download them as PDFs. Occasionally, these items include links to purchase other documents, records, or reports related to the one they’re viewing. With a couple of clicks, customers can make their “purchase within a purchase” and view these new items in their account.
First American wanted to implement an additional requirement to their new offering. Whether accessed via one-off purchases or with subscription credits, the items purchased should only be available for 48 hours. After that, the items should be automatically removed from the customer’s account. Guidance designed the custom middleware solution to facilitate the enforcement of that business logic. In the event of problems with document delivery, including illegible or corrupted files, First American approved and implemented a process for handling refunds requested within that 48-hour window.
Guidance developed a custom middleware solution, extending the functionality of First American’s BigCommerce platform. This opened up a new subscription-based revenue model, offered to an underserved business segment.
Guidance’s breadth of expertise enabled the solution to be built within First American’s pre-existing Azure environment, using .NET Core.
First American began with title services offered in the newly minted Orange County, CA. More than 130 years later, it’s become a global success story. They serve enterprise-level clients, but they know that small and mid-sized real estate businesses also need access to the depth of knowledge and expertise they’ve cultivated.
Guidance partnered with First American to evaluate the capabilities of their pre-existing technology solutions, and developed a custom middleware integration to extend the capabilities of their ecommerce platform. Built using .NET Core within First American’s preferred Azure environment, the solution securely integrates multiple back-end systems without the front end seeing the implementation details.
With the ability for users to create monthly subscriptions, and “purchase within a purchase” capabilities, First American now has an entirely new revenue stream. They can sell the data they already collect and curate for enterprise clients, in a different way, to hundreds of thousands of small and mid-sized real estate businesses.