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The History of the Home — and How Homeowners Can Take Control of Their Home (& Listings)

Every home has a story — some long, some short.

The history of a home includes a lot of things, depending on the age of both the home and the community it resides in. In the case of my parents home in Sammamish, that includes but is not limited to:

  • Photos of the outhouse from 50 years ago
  • Photos of the hideous red carpet that used to be in my bedroom
  • The transaction date and price from the 1920’s when my great great grandparents bought the property
  • Stories and photos of my parents water skiing in the summers with the neighbors.
  • Photos of my neighbors and I playing “ball tag” on the docks.
  • Numerous remodels.
  • Photos of Monahan (spelling?), the small community around the old lumber mill right down the lake
  • Photos of my mom and I rebuilding the deck when I was in 8th grade. And my step dad rebuilding it again a year ago.
  • The fact that the ceiling in my room looked like a disaster from the time I tore off the ugly tiles in 7th grade until sometime mid way through high school when we refinished it with new drywall
  • Stories of the tenants that rented the property over the years
  • The fact that one of my best friends was born in the very house I moved into in 4th grade
  • Stories of the journey’s my grandparents took to the cabin (now house) from Seattle more than 40 years ago when Issaquah barely existed
  • The fact that my dad and mom lived there in the late 1970’s when my sister was born

You get the picture. Now, some of these photos and stories should only shared between family — or close friends. But others could certainly be shared with anyone who wanted to see them. So of course there are privacy considerations to be thought through. The important thing to note is that every single home on the planet has a story — and that’s what home owners want to know (but few will go through all these steps to figure it out). And the “story” is what listing agents are marketing while a home is on the market to make it stand out from the thousands of other properties on the market.

What got my started on this topic you may ask? Well, it was this paragraph from Rob Hahn’s post about ARG’s decision to stop syndicating their listings:

Second, given the number of times that Mr. Abbott talks about how valuable the listing information is, just how important it is as “intellectual property”, and talks about how major publicly traded companies like Zillow and Realtor.com/Move could not survive without that intellectual property… am I the only non-REALTOR out there listening to that and wondering, “Hey, so all that information about my house is that valuable eh? Should I get any piece of all that valuable intellectual property action?”

So I think you know my answer to this question. No, Rob, you are not the only non-Realtor who has thought about this. And yes, there is intellectual property value that home owners are right to share in for their own homes.

How exactly? Read on…

The Opportunity

Give home owners a way to “own” their own home online. And I mean truly OWN — not some page on some 3rd party platform.

Tell the ENTIRE history of a home & its surrounding community.

What if, as part of the home purchase, the home owner was given control of a website entirely about their property? Essentially, some sort of “carfax for homes” that detailed everything you could ever want to know about the home.

What It Would Look Like

Well, I’d argue strongly that a “timeline” of a home, very similar to your individual timeline on Facebook, would make for a pretty compelling user experience.

Give home owners the ability to post photos, and tag those photos with dates (and, in a perfect world, people too). Give owners the ability to post stories from past tenants, family, and friends. Give owners the ability to post details of remodels, and the dates that they occurred. Give owners a way to post garage sales. Give owners a way to post family reunions, Christmas gatherings, and birthday parties for their kids. Give family members & close friends a way to post their fondest memories about a particular house. Give anyone the ability to post a photo or story on any house — but give the owner control as to whether to veto/approve them.

Include property facts. Recent sales history. The buyer and seller agent for each transaction. The brokerage for each transaction. Nearby recent comparable sales. Local parks. And of course a listing price if the home is on the market.

I, for one, would love to browse through a timeline of every single home on my parent’s street (about 15 homes). The home I was born in in Bellevue. The home by Phantom Lake in Bellevue where I lived for 2 years. That of my grandparents home in Redmond, OR. My bosses home. My best friend’s home. You get the point.

The Challenge

Every aggregator on the planet wants as many photos about a particular home as possible. They all want unique stories about a home that can’t be found elsewhere. They want remodel details. But virtually none of them have any of that (at scale).

Why?

It’s damn hard to aggregate — and the data is only found in the minds, attics, photo albums, and scrap books of individuals scattered all over the country.

Just think about the time that has gone into your family tree. It’s probably taken hours and hours for someone in your family to compose the tree after talking to many many family members over many years, and stored at your grandparents house…only to be looked at every few years at a minimum. Sites like Geni are trying to replicate this online — and make a business out of it. Think of how much TIME you’ve spent putting data into Facebook. All those photos, all your friends, status updates, comments, etc. And think of how valuable that data is making Facebook as they approach their IPO.

Which is exactly why “ownership” is so important in my mind. Personally, I’m not going to spend hours and hours and hours building a history of my parent’s home (or my own home in the future) on someone else’s website for that website to make money from. But I would spend the time IF I (or my family) owned the property and had 100% control over how it was used/displayed online.

Who Can Pull it Off

I don’t for a second think that a large real estate brokerage will pull this off — at least not with their in-house staff. But perhaps a smaller, tech-savvy, innovative one like M Squared can. In my mind, the only reasonable bet is going to be a technology vendor of sorts — even if that tech vendor is hired by a brokerage to build it. Whether that’s someone like Zillow (former employer), Virtual Results (former employer), Trulia, or an entirely new startup — I don’t know. And agents are the ones that will get this product into the hands of home owners. At least, that’s the most likely scenario in my mind since I don’t think the number of home owners who would proactively buy this product on their own is that high. But if the beginning is part of the marketing materials for a home on the market? It’s a good value add — particularly if the agent is the one that fills the site with a foundation of data for the owner to build upon.

You might be wondering how Zillow or Trulia could do this given their advertising-based business model. I think there is a way, and I’ll quickly explain. Zillow has SOME of this data now, but they certainly want more of it — and they want it primarily for the page views it could generate. However, I’d argue that if they built the right platform — one that home owners can buy control of — they’d get adoption. Certainly not everyone, but from many. Home owners (or real estate agents) could buy and control the website. The property details (beds, baths, sq footage, etc) would be sucked from the Zillow API and then could be modified to be correct. Zillow and the owner would jointly own this modified data, and either of them could do with it as they wish. The photos, stories, etc. would be owned entirely by the property owner — with an opt-in check box that says “share everything with Zillow”.

There, Zillow just created 100 million websites to sell for $39.95 — or whatever price point they want to put on the website product. That’s some decent coin for someone to go after.

Conclusion

This is an opportunity to for an agent/broker to build a lasting relationship with a home owner. I believe SOMEONE will get this opportunity right (and my bias hopes its’ Zillow). It’s just a matter of who, and when.

Anyone already working on this? Who thinks this would work?

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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  • Interesting Post.  I think it really depends on what part of the country you are from as well.  Where I am from in San Diego, it seems like people move every few years compared to other parts of the country where people really grow attached to their home. I see agents or a third party company having the most interest in owning the information.  Much more than many home owners because once they move what good is the site to them?  However, I could see a Zillow or another big player like that loving this idea.

  • Like the first photo… looks like the spaceship from Lost in Space series!

  • First you say “Give home owners a way to “own” their own home online. And I mean truly OWN — not some page on some 3rd party platform.” but then suggest Zillow or some other 3rd party.   I think it has to be a 3rd party and the closest to that today is Lowe’s with their MyLowes home service.  They could easily expand/extend/partner and create exactly what you’re talking about….without the $39.95.

    • Zillow could build a website product (using their data to seed the core home info) and SELL it to home owners — or agents who could give it to their buyers upon a closed transaction.

  • I like it! I think the aggregators are best poised to make something like this happen, since they display data on every property in the US (and not just properties for sale.) How do you suggest owners verify ownership? Post cards, similar to Google Places, would obviously be the most accurate, but that system would deter most homeowners. Maybe you allow anyone to claim a property, but a homeowner can correct a mis-claimed property through a series of steps (when a property is sold, the old owner transfers ownership via email, etc…) with the worst case scenario (someone maliciously incorrectly claims ownership) trumped by a postcard? 

    Anyways, just thinking out loud.

    • Totally agreed…

      On verification? I think making it not a free product is a start to limit scammers. But there would certainly have to be some verification, or a way to contest someone else’s claim.

  • Zillow lacks transparency, that’s why top contributors on zillow are anonymous. Most real estate professionals I talk with stay away from zillow.

    • Not sure where this comment is coming from. How is that relevant/related to this post?

      • Nick Katz, FRICS

        I’ve looked into it a bit more, not focused on it, but have some interesting ideas how to make it a reality. Think it would have to be a non-profit for it to work truly globally.

  • It’s a real commodity that seems really compelling.  I had good friends this year decide to relocate their family of six to Africa for 3-6 years.  It’s a huge undertaking and not worrying about a house a gazillion miles away was their preferred way to leave.  In the end, renting it became the right solution but  they really wanted someone to feel connected to the house even though it was ‘just a rental’.  We decided to do a very personal blog about the house.   It was extremely effective and the first three people through the door (brought in only by word of mouth) wrote leases.  The current tenant intends to stay for at least two years and hopes to stay for their entire absence.  She feels as attached as any tenant I’ve seen to a rental.

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  • Nick Katz, FRICS

    We’re looking at this currently with our business, would love to chat with anyone else interested…this is going to be a team effort at some level, so we are taking a very open approach to the work we are doing with http://www.locatable.com.

    • Are you still working on something in this space?

  • Shubber Ali

    We built this with Centriq app we launched (www.centriqhome.com) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7d1a47c29710dd0ecb529a0cdc0f3afcdc27c5895c41d5cf2cfd5082e3604a89.png , and have lined up great partners for our free homeowner app, including This Old House. Oh, and we were just announced as 1 of the 7 companies accepted into the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 REach accelerator program!

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