Part 4: Quotable Value Limited's QV homeguide application

Digital access to information and services: Learning from examples.

In this Part, we discuss:

Summary of findings

Providing information through the QV homeguide app enables the public to access information from multiple sources in a single location. The public can download a single app to get publicly held information about properties.

A private company is responsible for getting all this information. QV has a strategic partnership with this company, supporting public access to this information in a convenient way.

In terms of usability and accessibility, our independent assessor sampled relevant parts of the QV homeguide app and assessed them against the government guidelines for accessibility and usability. This assessment found that parts of the app did not fully comply.

However, the QV homeguide app did meet three out of the four highest-weighted criteria of the assessment. QV has taken some good steps to ensure that the app is usable and accessible, despite it not fully complying with the guidelines it was assessed against.

QV was able to leverage its relationship with CoreLogic NZ Limited (CoreLogic) to build an app that delivers digital information and services. The app has realised some benefits to its shareholders, such as generating some revenue and likely contributing to recognition of the QV brand. At the same time, the app has provided New Zealanders with access to information in a convenient way.

About Quotable Value Limited

QV provides rating and valuation services to central and local government, the public, and financial providers. QV is part of a group of companies owned by Quotable Value Limited, which is a publicly owned valuation and property-services company and a State-owned enterprise (SOE).

Quotable Value Limited owns a number of property and valuation-related companies that deliver services in the property industry. These include Darroch, a commercial and industrial valuation company, and QV Australia, which provides specialist rating and taxation services to local government organisations.

The QV homeguide app

The QV homeguide app is a joint venture between QV and CoreLogic (a property information and analytics company).

The QV homeguide app collects and gives access to the following types of information:

  • rating value – a valuation service provider determines the "likely selling price" of a property at a specific date for the local council to use as one of the factors in determining and allocating rates;
  • sales activity – sales on a specific property found on the app;
  • suburb demographics – median price data, demographic data, current listings, and the latest auction results; and
  • which residential properties are for sale in the area and which have recently been sold.

To get rating value information, local councils contract licensed valuers, such as QV, to value properties in their area. Rating value information is usually made up of three components: capital value, land value, and the value of improvements.

There are legislated guidelines for determining rating values, which need to be followed and are audited by the Office of the Valuer-General. Rating values are determined for all properties in New Zealand, usually once every three years. Therefore, depending on when a property is sold, the rating value might differ from the sale price.

Sales activity and suburb demographics come from CoreLogic's national property database, which holds information on every property in New Zealand. The national property database draws on information and sales data from District Valuation Rolls and from each of the councils in New Zealand. Information about property transactions comes from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).

The information collected from councils and from LINZ is categorised as Public Register Information and Public Register Supporting Information. Therefore, the information is available to anyone who wishes to search for it.

The QV homeguide app collates all the information from these sources, as well as the information provided by CoreLogic, and provides it in a single location. The QV homeguide app also enables people to purchase estimated current market values on properties.

An estimated current market value is the probable price a home would sell for at any given date. It can be affected by market factors at the time, including:

  • supply and demand – the number of homes available compared to the number of buyers looking;
  • interest rates;
  • the existing and potential use of the land;
  • the economy – including local, national, and international;
  • the property's visual appeal;
  • neighbourhood characteristics; and
  • access to facilities such as schools, shops, and transport.

Estimated current market values are calculated by drawing on the information in the CoreLogic national property database.

The QV homeguide app also provides a link to QV's registered valuation services.

What we audited and how we carried out our audit

We were interested in QV and the QV homeguide app because QV is an SOE. We wanted to see how an organisation with commercial interests provided government information to the public in a digital format.

Because QV is an SOE and has limited digital services available to the public, we looked at only a small part of what it did. One reason we chose to look at QV was because it is customer focused and because having usable and accessible digital information should lead to improved services to the public.

We focused on whether QV was realising any benefits from providing access to government information through the QV homeguide app. We also wanted to assess whether the information provided through the QV homeguide app was usable and accessible.

We reviewed publicly available documents to gain an understanding of QV and its various divisions, and then spoke with QV staff before carrying out the audit, to help inform our understanding and our approach.

We interviewed staff from QV's head office. We wanted to understand more about:

  • the establishment of the QV homeguide app;
  • the QV homeguide app's intended benefits and achieved benefits; and
  • any lessons from QV's involvement in the QV homeguide app.

We had an expert assess the QV homeguide app against guidelines for accessibility and usability.

Some benefits have been achieved

We expected the QV homeguide app's intended benefits to align with QV's operating intent. The QV homeguide app's intended benefit is to generate revenue for the Crown. This is consistent with the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 and the letter of expectations to QV from its shareholding ministers.

The QV homeguide app has generated some revenue for QV and CoreLogic. We were told that revenue was generated by selling advertising space on the QV homeguide app to a private company in its first year of operation. The arrangement with the private company was not renewed after the first year.

QV staff told us that the QV homeguide app continues to generate a small amount of revenue by selling services, such as estimated current market values. We have chosen not to report on these financial benefits because this information could be commercially sensitive.

QV staff also told us that an additional benefit of the QV homeguide app is that it enables people to access the property information for free and supports wider efforts to increase awareness of the QV brand.

We do not expect QV to be able to quantify the precise contribution that the QV homeguide app has made to increasing overall awareness of the QV brand. However, QV told us that it has carried out surveys on brand awareness and that 82% of those surveyed recognised the QV brand.

Steps taken to create a usable and accessible application

Because the QV homeguide app makes public information available using a digital format, we wanted to get a sense of how accessible and usable the information is. When we commissioned the independent assessment of the app, we acknowledged that QV had no formal obligation to comply with the guidelines the app was assessed against. We also acknowledged that QV's commercial interests could influence the standards of accessibility and usability achieved by the app.

We found that QV has taken some good steps to ensure that the app is usable and accessible, despite it not fully complying with the guidelines it was assessed against.

Usability and accessibility assessments of apps are relatively new. They rely on best practice guidelines rather than the prescribed standards used for websites. However, assessing apps against these guidelines can provide valuable insight into how their usability and accessibility can be improved.

The independent assessment involved sampling relevant parts of the QV homeguide app and rating each of the user-facing elements against the relevant criteria. The assessment included scoring each criterion and commenting where the app did not fully comply. Each criterion was weighted, so the overall assessment of the app's accessibility and usability was based on a combination of QV's weighted scores.

Figure 2 presents the assessment findings. It shows that the QV homeguide app:

  • fully met 13 out of 17 applicable guidelines;
  • fully met three out of four of the highest-weighted criteria of the assessment; and
  • did not meet one of the four highest-weighted criteria, because the app can be viewed only in portrait orientation.

Figure 2
Mobile accessibility assessment of the QV homeguide app against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

2.0 Ref. Criterion Maximum possible weighted score QV score Comments
2.1 Small screen size – the information on each page is minimised, with a dedicated mobile version or responsive design. 100 100  
2.1 Small screen size – default size for text and touch controls is reasonable. 100 100  
2.1 Small screen size – page length adapts to width without horizontal scrolling. 100 100  
2.1 Small screen size – form fields are below their labels. 80 80  
2.2 Zoom/magnification – OS features (set default text size, magnify entire screen, magnify lens view under finger) and browser features (set default text size, magnify browser's viewport). 90 63 Some clipping of text when set to big size in Android. In iOS, enlargement of text on screen by pinching does not allow a flow of block text, resulting in annoying scrolling from side to side.
2.3 Contrast is at least 4.5 to 1 (or 3.0 to 1 for large-scale text). 80 64 Yellow/orange text and white on yellow/orange insufficient contrast.
3.2 Touch target size and spacing – touch targets are at least 9mm high by 9mm wide, and targets close to the minimum size are surrounded by inactive space. 80 80  
3.3 Touchscreen gestures – easy gestures that are discoverable, unintentional mouse and touch gestures are avoided. 80 80  
3.5 Placing buttons where they are easy to access. 70 70  
4.1 Changing screen orientation (portrait/landscape) – both orientations are supported. 100 0 Portrait only.
4.2 Consistent layout – navigation and regular features are in the same order on each page. 70 70  
4.3 Positioning important elements before the page scroll. 70 70  
4.4 Grouping operable elements that perform the same action. 60 60  
4.5 Providing clear indication that elements are actionable. 80 40 Not obvious what can be touched for action.
5.1 Setting the virtual keyboard to the type of data entry required. 70 70  
5.2 Providing easy methods for data entry. 70 70  
5.3 Supporting the characteristic properties of the platform. 80 80  

Our independent assessor did not offer any views about how the results of the assessment compared to similar assessments of other apps. In our view, this is expected because assessing apps in this way is relatively new.

Staff at QV told us that, in practice, they have taken steps to try to create a usable and accessible app.

There is a space on the QV website for feedback on the app. This can be used to help improve usability. The QV website has examples of people asking questions about the app and QV responding to those questions.

Someone asked when the QV homeguide app will be available, because it is not currently in an app store. QV responded by adding a download link on its website. This is an example of QV responding to the public's need.

The other steps QV staff have taken are:

  • customer research to see what its potential customers were looking for and what they expected in an app; and
  • prototype and user testing to see what works, whether the QV homeguide app was understandable and could be used, and using the User Interface and User Experience guidelines to design the app. These guidelines also note what colours are best to use and set requirements for how the app should work on different types of devices.