Web Site Offers One Stop for Real Estate Data

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Michele Norris talks with Rich Barton, founder and CEO of zillow.com, about the launch of a new free Web site that claims to offer free, accurate and neutral real estate information to the everyday consumer. It gives users the home's estimated value, maps and aerial photos.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The recent real estate boom has left visions of dollar signs dancing through many a head. Just how much is that home worth? And what would it cost to move to a particular neighborhood? It's usually difficult to find accurate, neutral, and reliable data on home values without the help of a real estate agent. That may change with today's launch of a new website called zillow.com. It's a free online service that gives users the estimated value of a home, along with maps, aerial photos and a price sampling for other homes in the area. Zillow.com is the brainchild of Richard Barton. He's the same internet pioneer who launched the travel site expedia.com. He joins us now from his office in Seattle. So glad you could be with us.

Mr. RICHARD BARTON (CEO, zillow.com): Well, thank you for inviting me on the show, Michele.

NORRIS: So, why did you decide to jump into the real estate market?

Mr. BARTON: Well, I was shopping for a home about a year and a half ago and I was kind of frustrated with the information out there that was available to me as I was looking around and shopping. And I'm one of those kind of spreadsheet, geeky guys, I ended up digging out a bunch of information about past home transactions and putting it into a spreadsheet. But it kind of hit me that that kind of work shouldn't be just the realm of spreadsheet geeks.

NORRIS: So, tell me how the site works for those of us who aren't spreadsheet geeks. All you do is type in an address and a zip code and there it is?

Mr. BARTON: That's right. You just type in an address and there it is. It's a little bit different from most real estate sites out there because we've actually taken on the ambitious goal of trying to place a zestimate, or an estimated house value, on the rooftop literally of every house in the country. So just go to the site, type in your address and we'll take you to a map of your neighborhood with a zestimate of your house and all your neighbors' houses.

NORRIS: Where are you getting this information? How are you coming up with your so-called zestimate?

Mr. BARTON: Well, our zestimates are developed by some sharp statisticians and computer scientists who have taken a huge amount of data, over two terabytes of data, from counties across the country. And we have come up with a reasonable estimate of what most homes are worth.

NORRIS: And what about a neighborhood that's in transition, a warehouse district that suddenly, you know, is on its way to becoming sort of a place filled with hipsters and young professionals? How are you going to capture that?

Mr. BARTON: That's Belltown in Seattle right now. We capture that because we'll be able to look at the last year of transactions in that neighborhood and we'll be able to say, hey, it looks like there's a lot of condos going up there, and a lot of condos selling there and a lot of condos being remodeled there. And so we take this daily feed of new transaction data and make a re-zestimation of what every condo in that neighborhood's value is everyday. And so we capture the cutting edge of what's happening in a market right now, and you'd be able to go to what looks like a stock chart of that condo and see it rising dramatically in the last year.

NORRIS: Now, Richard that's the way it's supposed to work. I've been trying to get on this website all day long, and all I've gotten is apologies, no information.

Mr. BARTON: Yes. We apologize, right now we have been a little swamped with demand and so we're adding a bunch of new hardware right now so it shouldn't be too long.

NORRIS: Now we'd mentioned that you're also the man behind expedia.com. That website had quite an impact on the travel industry by allowing people to sort of book and plan their own travel using data that only travel agents could use in the past. Do you think you'll have a similar effect on the real estate industry?

Mr. BARTON: Well, I think our effect will be different but the inspiration is the same. Expedia was a travel agent and Zillow is not a realtor. It's up to the consumer as to what they do. I think that the industry is at kind of a cross roads, the real estate industry.

NORRIS: There is some concern about this. That for most people the bulk of their wealth is tied up in their home and if they're basing this purchase on information that they basically get, you know, with a few keystrokes on the web, some real estate agents are concerned that people won't be armed with the kind of information and expertise that they really need when they enter the market.

Mr. BARTON: You know, I think that people go into a first meeting with a realtor right now in a very disadvantaged position. They don't know too much about actually what's going on other than scuttlebutt and what they've heard. And I just can't think it's a bad thing for people to educate themselves and get smart and to have their own information source so they can sit down with that realtor and have an educated conversation.

NORRIS: Richard Barton, it's been great talking to you.

Mr. BARTON: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Richard Barton is the founder of zillow.com. He joined us from his office in Seattle.

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