Providing a feature-rich website experience for apartment-hunters and landlords, Domu is a household name in the Chicago rental market. But years ago, when the idea for the site first began to coalesce, the company needed development consulting and coding resources to build it.
Domu was founded by a successful real estate development group in 2009. At the time, Craigslist was the best game in town for finding or listing apartment rentals. The Domu team knew they could do it better. They envisioned a site that showed off the city’s unique properties, as well as provided landlords with more powerful, less time-consuming tools for managing their listings.
As Chicago natives, the Domu team also wanted to incorporate their knowledge of—and passion for—their hometown. They understood what Chicago renters were looking for and they knew the pros and cons of every neighborhood. Domu, they thought, should help renters find not only their perfect home, but also their perfect neighborhood.
We were introduced to the team through Domu’s design partner, Liska + Associates, with whom we’d previously worked. Shortly thereafter, we hopped on a plane to Chicago to come up with a plan for bringing Domu to life.
Since coming on board as Domu’s development partner, we’ve performed updates on a rolling basis. Over the years we’ve completed many upgrades, including moving the site from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 and implementing a fully responsive layout for mobile users. We typically have at least one major development cycle with new sets of features every year, and we continue to use development roadmaps to plan out and achieve Domu’s goals for the site.
In the seven years since we first began working with Domu, screen technology has undergone significant changes. To meet new demands in screen and mobile technology, we made updates to the Domu website that would provide responsive layouts, improve functionality, and minimize site clutter. Anticipating mobile users, we wanted to match the intuitive power of a cleaner front-end with an equally powerful back-end.
Because we had originally built most of the functionality of their website from scratch, we could make updates to accommodate responsive changes to their maps, listings, imagery, and dropdown lists without having to rebuild them. Since the original website design had been created by Liska + Associates, the Domu team relied on them to create the updated, responsive layout, preserving brand continuity. With the updated layout designs, Domu’s web pages now expand and minimize (respond) to fit the width of any screen on any device.
Additionally, part of our usability updates included tightening up the functionality of apartment listing pages - the cornerstone of the Domu site. We also introduced data feed support, initially from MLS but expanded to include many feed partners. This enables landlords, typically with large buildings and many units renting all the time, to feed data from other listing management tools websites into Domu without having to populate and update their listing in two different places.
As an open-source development platform, Drupal made an excellent starting point for Domu. Drupal combines a powerful content management system with a huge collection of modular extensions, built and maintained by a community of developers. This combo means that, even for a brand new project like Domu, we’re able to take advantage of a lot of prebuilt functionalities, instead of starting from scratch. Using Drupal allowed us to spend less time building the site’s foundation, and more time tackling Domu’s more complex custom features.
One of the most prominent (and most involved) features of the site was the listings map. Domu wanted to make it easy to browse properties by neighborhood. Before we could do that, we had to define the boundaries of those neighborhoods, which are not always clear-cut. To run the map interface, we built a geo-coding module that incorporates mapping layers for the neighborhood boundaries exported in KML format from Google Earth. The interactive maps were then integrated into landing pages that describe the neighborhood’s features, as well as listing rentals available in the area.
Just as important as the renter-facing aspects of Domu were the tools for landlords and property managers. With a combination of multi-tiered content types, a rich taxonomy, and additional custom modules, we built Domu’s back-end to be as intuitive and efficient as possible. Landlords can track their rental histories, monitor web traffic to individual property pages, and create listings either by unit or by building. The Domu interface makes it immeasurably easier to manage rental portfolios of any size.