Being a bit geeky about data, I was intrigued by the headline a few weeks on Mashable.com: Who Owns Your Data? The conclusion of the article is that the actual ownership of data is irrelevant but it’s what you do with the data – that is, how you analyze it to draw out insights and make it more valuable. This is something I think about every day in the business context, but lately, I have actually been thinking about data ownership, aggregation and analysis from a more personal perspective – the point of view of a homebuyer as my family embarks on a search for a new house.
Up until a few years ago, accessing real estate information in the U.S. was a very cumbersome process – the so-called Multiple Listing Service (MLS) was only available to realtors and thus, even for a simple I’m just curious what’s on the market query, you either had to engage a realtor or drive around a neighborhood hoping to spot a “for sale” or “open house” sign. Fast-forward to today. Real estate data is virtually everywhere and it’s nicely packaged on a number of different websites. These websites provide aggregated information from both the public and private domains - tax assessment records, transfer of deeds, recent comparable sales, existing MLS listings, community ratings of schools, and various other disparate sources to make house-hunting a lot easier. Two of these sites, which I happen to be using for our house-hunt are Zillow.com and Redfin.com, and luckily since they are headquartered right here in Seattle, their data on this market are particularly robust.
Zillow’s core differentiator is its so-called Zestimate® – it provides a buyer or seller an estimated market price of a property given all of the data inputs and current market conditions. The site has interactive charts with pricing trends, maps that clearly list estimated values of other neighboring houses, links to nearby comparable sales, and of course a whole series of sponsored links from realtors, lenders and a few Google ads, for good measure. If you own a property, you can subscribe to alerts about your property’s estimated value, indicate a “make me move” price, and update the information on Zillow with details about remodels or upgrades you have made, which will hopefully result in a higher Zestimate® for your property. For a homebuyer, all of the Zillow data and analysis is an absolute dream – if you find a house you like, you are no longer making an offer blindly, but can make an informed decision and hopefully save a significant amount of money!
Redfin.com operates a little differently from Zillow.com in that it primarily showcases houses actually for sale. In addition to typical listing information, a buyer can get details about how long the home has been on the market and changes in list price over time (invaluable in getting a sense of how flexible the owner is on the list price), ratings of nearby schools, statistics about recent comparable sales, and links to those oh-so-useful Zestimates®. What I most like about Redfin.com is its iPhone/iPad app – the interface is simple and it’s meant for the house hunter on the go. It immediately identifies the nearest home for sale, allows you to search for homes by neighborhood or by zooming in on a map, and when you find the place of interest, you can view online photos and all of the details found on the main website, as well as get Google Maps directions from your current location to the house. If you snap a photo or jot down a few notes, the info synchs up with what you might have saved in your online search results so you can access everything when you get home and wrap up your house-hunting research. You can also set up alerts/searches to ping you whenever a new listing comes up in your target area – unlike other sites, you are not required to rely on postal codes or town names but on the actual mapped area you find of most interest.
I absolutely love having this type of information at my fingertips – and I love the fact that someone else did the legwork and aggregated and analyzed everything for me. It’s certainly not perfect, but it sure beats going into the housing market completely blind and being completely reliant on a single real estate agent for all of your information. Armed with the data and analysis provided by these two sites, I’m sure to score a deal on our future house.