Tech firm helps homebuyers make smarter choices

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By Sheila Watson

Home is important to Rich Estes – in more ways than one.

It certainly is with his tech company HomeTrackR, a home history reporting tool he developed in 2013.

And the importance of home is evident in his choice of Charleston as the location for his business.

When he launched HomeTrackR, Estes has been in the Washington, D.C. area since 2011 to pursue an MBA at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Having lived in Charleston from 1999 to 2011, he turned his eye toward the Holy City.

“Charleston is a creative and energetic place for entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s attracting serious technology attention from all around the country.”

Among the serious technology being attracted is his reporting tool, which provides information about a home in an easy-to-understand report.

“Our tool is meant to give more information than what you’ve had before,” Estes said. “It’s designed to take the data and put it into a format that’ll help you make one of the most important buying decisions of your life. It can save both buyers and real estate agents thousands by weeding out those homes that have hidden problems.”

HomeTrackR aggregates digital information from public and private sources – mostly public, Estes noted – to provide useful information about the history of a home.

“After the actual home inspection, a lot of deals fall apart,” he said. “This report could let people know some information about the house before they get to that point.”

Using predictive analytics, the report could point out some red flags.

“For instance, it’ll show if the home was in foreclosure within the past ten years,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a bad egg, but you might want to look closer because that could indicate the home had been vacant for a while and might have maintenance issues.”

Estes pointed out that 40 percent of all homes on the market have at least one serious problem in areas such as HVAC, the roof or structural issues. The report would show whether any work had been done and when.

“You can get information about permits, insurance claims, inspections and even contractors who’ve worked on the property,” he said. “That can give you some peace of mind before you buy.”

The target market – besides homebuyers – includes real estate agents, inspectors and service industry professionals who do maintenance, such as HVAC technicians, electricians and plumbers – which were all part of the community Estes knew well during his career in residential construction and real estate.

“When I was a builder, I was part of the transaction,” he said. “I filed permits and saw all the information that went into buying and selling homes. I knew all that information was valuable, but no one had organized it into a usable format.”

Although there are some reporting agencies that provide similar information – and technology has made getting the raw data easier – Estes said that no one does all of it the way HomeTrackR will.

“Our long-term goal is to be the resource to make the home-buying process easier,” he said.

What he set out to do when the company launched in 2013 hasn’t changed much since then. Originally a pay-for product for consumers, about a year ago Estes went to a partnership revenue model. Now the consumer reports are free and HomeTrackR has teamed up with national partners that bring value to homebuyers and homeowners.

“We’re looking big picture and connecting consumers to things they need,” he said.

Although the company headquarters is Charleston, the web-based tool is used in markets nationwide. Some areas – such as southern California, Chicago and Austin – have a greater focus given their high-density populations.

“We’re not completely vertically integrated,” he said. “We have quite a few partners in development and marketing, and we have industry partners, like data companies, at the enterprise level. Sometimes clients want leads, sometimes they want data. We’re still at a stage where we’re not pinned to one revenue model. Right now it’s all about getting the right partners.”

Among the right partners are national lenders and national insurance companies.

“They’re not really reselling our product,” Estes said. “They’re looking at our information.

Some are trying to give unique data sets back to their customers so their customers can make smarter decisions. Some want to get our data to minimize risk in their business. Our partnerships are really geared toward generating analytics about the homeowner and what they do with the home.”

Over the past year – which Estes said was the company’s biggest year so far with 250 percent growth – more than 30,000 reports were generated, mostly from homebuyers.

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