Matrix Blog

Social, Tech, Gadgets, Software

Real Estate’s Technology Boom Goes Beta

February 13, 2006 | 12:02 am | |

Real estate technology has come of age, aided by the housing boom combined the American obsession with real estate ans technology. The ability to find and match properties with consumers, to research and investigate properties are among the most logical extensions of new web technologies.

New web sites such as Trulia and Zillow are launched, have deep pockets, yet remain in beta, probably to difuse criticism of the vast promises they seem to be making to the consumer (and may fullfill those promises within a few years if they can last that long). Zillow provides property values and Trulia provides listings with very easy to follow interfaces.

Real estate blogs have evolved into the goto daily resources with a slew of ever changing real estate related topics. The king of real estate blogs, [Curbed](( who has been around just about the longest, is going national with localized market coverage areas. Curbed started out in New York, and has expanded to Los Angeles with about a half dozen other major markets coming down the pike. Big Media has begun to join the blog fray but is at a disadvantage since they cannot have the same edge to them that independent bloggers have. The New York Times blog The Walk-Through and Businessweek’s Hot Properties are among the best of them.

Craigslist, with its primitive interface, has proved that you don’t have to be pretty to be effective, has cost classified advertisers millions of dollars and continues to grow.

Earlier forays into online real estate services such as and remain oldschool and seem stuck in cluttered screen cram-down that overwhelms consumers with irrelevant information.

This whole technology movement is exciting and the possibilities are endless, as soon as we get out of Beta.

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Potty Talk Becomes Toilet-Side Technology

February 13, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

The article The Type-A Bathroom [WSJ] the sanctity of the bathroom has been compromised by a new trend in construction that caters to workaholics.

This trend is not just appearing in “smart homes.”

The humble bathroom, long a place of refuge and solitude, is playing quiet host to more workplace transactions. Bathroom business has gone way beyond tapping out furtive emails on a BlackBerry. Lately, more hard-driving homeowners have converted their loos into virtual satellite workspaces, with retractable desks or waterproof touch-screen monitors. Manufacturer Acquinox of New York says sales of its steam shower/whirlpool units — a hands-free phone is standard in each — nearly tripled last year to 14,800 modules. Wisconsin-based Seura, meanwhile, reports rising sales of its vanity mirrors, which feature LCD screens in the glass. The mirrors, starting at $2,400, let users check their tie-knot, then flip a switch to watch the embedded TV.

Many Type-A bathrooms are showing up in high-end “smart homes,” which feature computer systems that let homeowners control music, temperature and lights from wall-mounted touch pads. Now, builders and interior designers say, more owners also want toilet-side technology.

When I read the WSJ article, the authors casually mentioned the phrase toilet-side technology. I was not familiar with it and I had to look it up.

I went to one of my favorite vocabulary resources (goodness knows I need it) Word-spy and looked up toilet-side.

Relating to something positioned beside or within reach of a toilet.

They used the WSJ article as an example of its correct use, proving yet again that the WSJ is a leading-edge publication. 😉

Craigslist Lawsuit: there’s a kosher deli around the corner

February 13, 2006 | 12:01 am |

In the AP story Craigslist Accused of Ad Discriminating [AP/Yahoo News] A federal lawsuit accuses the online site Craigslist of violating fair housing laws by publishing discriminatory classified ads, reviving the question of what legal boundaries, if any, should exist for postings on the Internet.

They are being sued for phrases such as: near a church or there’s a kosher deli around the corner …about 1-2 of these ads per 100,000 listings.

Here’s Craigslist criticism of the lawsuit and the founder’s blog post on it.

How can any online provider filter all content? 19 Craigslist employees (100% of their employees) policing 2 million free housing ads per month seems to be impossible. The intention of the lawsuit is to have internet classifieds follw the same standards as print media. However, the consensus of experts seems to be that internet law says that an online service provider is not considered a publisher when it passes along information.

In addition, EBay has a 25% interest in Craigslist and has experience in this sort of “content” litigation as well. This should prove to be interesting and many in the online classified industry will be watching closely.

Rhymes With Pillow: Takes A Breather

February 9, 2006 | 12:30 am | |

At a party recently, I had the chance to meet Richard Barton, the founder of Zillow and he mentioned he was starting up a real estate site. He was a nice, very low key guy who happen to be one of the founders of, which turned the travel industry on its ear. His new site, Zillow got everyone’s attention and no one knew what it was – until yesterday. Inman spent a lot of effort peaking our curiousity and I got a lot of calls from people in the industry asking what the heck it does.

Wednesday was launch day. I read four articles this morning about the site and got excited to check it out for myself when I got into work. The NY Observer article was especially good. In fact I read it on my Treo as I commuted in to work.

As far as the media coverage goes, I find it interesting that technical tools like this are often painted as spelling the end of full service brokerage services. I find this point hard to accept. I think that tools like Zillow and others are a natural evolution of technology and special services like this offer something that full service brokers cannot provide and really aren’t in business to provide. I think its kind of like the iPod. Apple builds them but third parties build all the add-on accessories.

The result of these tools is a more efficient market because of the additional flow of information. Its also raises the bar for full service brokers to have staff that are more fully informed about the market. There is opportunity to interpret information. Over this next year or so, the number of transactions is likely to drop and many brokers who have relied on being order takers will now have to actually market. Those that always marketed in boom times, should have nothing to worry about.

Since the Zillow involves valuation, and I am an appraiser, I was especially curious because its such a daunting effort to automate valuation on such a large scale. In fact, for the most part, the lending industry has been trying to do this for the past 5 years with limited success (If you base success on accuracy rather than simply pushing paper for the files to keep the regulators happy). A few months ago, a national lender told me that out of the 10 major automated valuation services (AVM’s), 8 were totally unreliable, 1 was marginal and 1 was pretty good. This lays the groundwork for my initial skepticism about Zillow, but I am open minded. I think it will evolve and will have more strength in certain markets than others depending on the data they are fed.

Well, apparently, the public relations juggernaut the emerged over the past few weeks with the build up, overwhelmed the site early in the day and as of 11:51pm tonight they are still of the air. I found their ZillowBlog which explained the problem and put a human spin on it. They should definitely link the blog to their home page to keep a dialog of their technical progress.

For those who were lucky enough to get access, the reviews were pretty good but basically mixed (after all this is a beta and there is a lot more data for them to tap into.) Of course the “red light theory” seems to apply here. Users will likely only remember the valuations that were not accurate and not those that were.

I anxiously await my turn. I am sure this is going to be fun. More to come.

_As seen from their web site_

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Trulia Flips The Switch And Does A Mash-Up On New York Real Estate

January 30, 2006 | 9:07 pm | |

Mash-ups have become exceedingly popular these days especially after Google placed its API (application programming interface) or “hooks” in the public domain to let innovative companies combine different sources of data to a create new effect. One of the best uses of the mash-up concept in real estate to date has been created by Trulia was created by Pete Flint and Sami Inkinen in the summer of 2004 while they were graduate students at Stanford University. Note: the Google founders also went to graduate school at Stanford. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sami at length at Brad Inman’s Real Estate Connect in New York this month.

Here’s some more information about the service and their philosophies.

Trulia is essentially a vertical application of a Google search.

I heard about Trulia last fall through word of mouth and have followed their popularity in California. I added a post about Trulia [Matrix] a few months ago. The concept was straightforward and the site seemed to place tremendous emphasis on simplicity. Their data feeds are from public web sites, not MLS systems since that information is proprietary.

New York seemed to be ripe for this type of service as a compliment to what already exists in the public domain because it culls together a variety of information into one web page. When Trulia decided to launch in New York, they came to my firm Miller Samuel as well as Property Shark to provide additional content for users. The result of this mash-up is a lot of data useful to potential homebuyers interspersed within the listing information being searched.

Trulia is not a real estate broker and in fact, has sought out cooperation with the brokerage community. They have positioned themselves as a way for brokers to leverage the exposure of the listings already placed out on the web, and not as competition. They make their money from online advertising.

Among my favorite features are being able to create an RSS feed so the user can see new listings that meet their search criteria as the become available. I also like being able to save custom searches and their listing stats are particularly useful. Rarely do new web service sites come along that I get excited about.

AI Report: Its A Nice Form If You Are A Member

December 15, 2005 | 9:48 am |

A series of forms are being released by the [Appraisal Institute] to address the needs of its members will be ready for use on January 1st 2006. Its the first of a series of new forms in development. The revision of all residential appraisal forms by Fannie Mae on November 1st 2005 are not usuable for purposes other than for mortgages unlike in the past. It will fill the void since software vendors would likely discontinue their support for the old FNMA forms in the future. Its a valient effort and the forms look great.

Download a sample watermark protected copy of the form [AI – pdf].

On a lighter note, the final form does not appear to have the complete copyright text at the bottom. You might see that type of presentation on a web site with a link to more disclaimers. You usually see “all rights reserved” as a suffix, but I am not a lawyer. 😉

The forms are tailored toward their members with their logo and have checkboxes for designations, etc. Understandably self-serving so I predict that they will not be universally accepted as a replacement. The opportunity remains for others to develop forms for non-lending purposes.

I think the Appraisal Institute has been short sighted from a marketing perspective and likely squandered an opportunity to make these forms the standard to be used by all. The advertising on the form will only be to their own membership which has its purpose but does not gain new members. A subtle notation at the bottom of the form would have been a far more powerful marketing tool.

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Going Vertical With Google: A Mash-up Of Listings And Maps

December 5, 2005 | 12:01 am | |

A new kind of real estate search engine called Trulia is getting graphic about traditional listing searches [Curbed LA].

The New York Times Circuits Section discusses a whole new breed of real estate search engines, including Trulia thanks to Google Maps in A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code [NYT]

“A new class of entrepreneur is jumping in as well. Pete Flint, a 2004 graduate of Stanford University’s business school, and a classmate, Sami Inkinen, started a mash-up called, which pinpoints real estate listings on a Google map. Click on a pushpin in a favorite neighborhood and up pops the listings, along with comparables from recent home sales and other nearby properties.

Trulia has posted data only for five California cities, and that data is a bit thin because it uses publicly available sources like newspapers and Web sites, not the Multiple Listing Service, the copyrighted databases belonging to local broker associations. Trulia plans on adding additional layers of information, like census data.”

Trulia is only in California but its catching on.

Click here for more on their mash-up concept.

Webmaster’s Note: Thanks Laura S.!

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More Fog Around The Lighthouse As Battle Of The Press Releases Runs Aground

November 28, 2005 | 12:01 am |

In last week’s post Cutting Through The Fog: Dependency On Proprietary Standards Is Not Good For Business [Soapbox], I referred to the strange press release from ACI actually announcing they did not renew their agreement with several vendors.

Apparently and Day One have released their own press release explaining their side of the story [Appraisal Buzz]. The press release headline “Accelerated adoption of MISMO & AI Ready standards makes Lighthouse format increasingly outdated” says it all and further indicated that ACI’s move would only affect 5% of the 40,000 appraisers that use their service.

This back and forth positioning between these vendors seems to drive home the point that proprietary formats for collaberation or exchange of data is not good for our industry because it makes all of particularly vulnerable to the health or strategy of the licensor. An industry open source format is the better way.

Can you imagine the commercial appraisal world without Microsoft Office? It can be unstable, buggy, expensive to upgrade and annoying to use at times but there are limited alternatives, primarily because both the user and the vendor must use the same software or have a working translator. Competitors were crushed a long time ago.

I am not happy with a business world without competition in software. Innovations and improvements wane over time. We all lose.

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Cutting Through The Fog: Dependency On Proprietary Standards Is Not Good For Business

November 22, 2005 | 1:14 pm |

Today I received a press release ACI Does Not Renew Lighthouseâ„¢ Agreement with Appraisal.comâ„¢ [AppraisalBuzz] that announce the termination of the licensing agreement for its Lighthouse product for use with, Day One and Nova users. ACI will provide upgrades for those users to switch to ACI products.

It is curious why this announcement was done as a press release. That seems to be unprecedented.

Its not apparent why this limitation would be trumpeted to the appraisal community unless is was done to sell more upgrades. However, this is only speculation. I don’t know the reasons for the decision besides those publicly stated as being in the best interests of ACI users.

If true, the strategy is quite logical. If Lighthouse was the standard for electronic data transfer for the appraisal industry over the past 7 years as the release says, then it could be advantageous to pull the plug on competitors and peripheral companies as the industry begins to rely exclusively on it and there are few alternatives. Users are forced (or urged with discounts and deadlines) to quickly switchover. One alternative to this prprietary format is the PDF format which is associated with Adobe. Most lenders accept this format and have developed OCR applications to cull key pieces of data from the documents. However, with PDF, the raw data does not stream to the client (which they can use to analyze and give to other appraisers).

I remember when appraisal software began to ramp up 15-20 years ago, some lenders would opt to go with a proprietary format and the appraiser would be forced to use it or lose the client. Appraisers were often running two or three software packages simultaneously. We would decline working for a lender because we did not want to run a particular software package. It seemed to me that the line was crossed when a lender would force me to run a type of software for their convenience since I had many other clients that used different packages. Kinda like, Are you a “Ford” truck owner or a “Chevy” truck owner.

Products like Lighthouse came out and made this practice obsolete but as time has passed, history may be repeating itself as it remains one of the few methods of EDI delivery of appraisal reports.

This situation brings to mind the problems with over-dependence on proprietary formats:

  • They require ongoing licensing fees
  • Vendors are subject to the whims of the licensor
  • Users are eventually afforded fewer market alternatives
  • Industries depend on the health of the company that is the primary licensor

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