February 15, 2012

Crime, school and amenities data paired with real estate

Real estate search site Trulia now has neighborhood data on crime, schools and other things that aren't real estate but that homebuyers and prospective renters might like to know about before moving in.

The "Trulia Local" option -- here's Baltimore -- offers up a map showing you where violent and non-violent crimes happened, where the schools are (and how parents have rated them) and where you can find restaurants, banks, gas stations and grocery stores. Oh yeah, and the homes for sale along with the recently sold stuff.

What do you think? Does the information look useful? Accurate?

What do you really want to know before you buy or rent?

If you've seen other examples of neighborhood-level data, with or without housing details, please share in the comments.

Here's a link-fest of local resources for crime and school data, if you're in the market for more.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Real estate online

July 13, 2011

A crazy 'Zestimate' history on Baltimore house

When Zillow changed the way it calculated its popular (and controversial) "Zestimates" last month, lots of homeowners saw their Zestimated value rise overnight and slightly more watched it drop.

But Wonk reader Hilary had a much stranger experience. The new algorithm, applied to the last five years of data, turned her Bolton Hill home's Zestimate into a roller coaster that makes the housing bust look like a kiddie ride.

Like so:


"I count eight months in which it either gained or lost over $100k, and a couple more that were close to that," Hilary wrote me. "In December 2008, when the financial world was imploding and the housing market seemed to be in freefall, Zillow's new algorithm has my house's value going up from $493k to $671k, and then to $732k the next month. Really: look at the graph and ask yourself: could this possibly describe the value of any actual house?"

(I'm not sharing the web link to Hilary's chart because that page lists her address, but this is indeed what it looked like as of late Tuesday.)

When I asked Zillow about this Zestimate, the company quickly declared it an error and said it would be fixed soon -- likely this week.

Continue reading "A crazy 'Zestimate' history on Baltimore house" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Real estate online

July 1, 2011

For homebuyers, sellers and agents alike, a rapid increase in real estate tech

Technology has revolutionized real estate -- and not just because we can check out photos of homes for sale while sitting around in our pajamas.

There are smart-phone apps for finding the nearest listings while you're driving about. Programs that email or text you when new homes that fit your specifications hit the market. "Zestimates" of everyone's home value.

John L. Heithaus, chief marketing officer for the region's multiple-listing service, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, says this rush of technology -- and tech-fueled information -- is creating opportunities and challenges for buyers, sellers and agents alike.

"The real estate business is now open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, because of technology," he said.

MRIS held a tech-oriented conference last week in Silver Spring that drew nearly 300 real estate professionals, who came to hear about social media, digital marketing and the like. So the subject is on Heithaus's mind.

Continue reading "For homebuyers, sellers and agents alike, a rapid increase in real estate tech" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Real estate online

May 5, 2010

Whizbang features on real estate sites

Online real estate broker Sawbuck Realty recently unveiled a few new features, including a no-maximum search function. Want to see all 5,491 homes for sale in or near Baltimore? It won't lecture you to narrow your search.

That got me thinking about the wide variety of real estate search sites out there, and how most have something nifty in hopes of getting your undying love, or more specifically your continual usage. 

Redfin, for instance, lets you select (or deselect) homes to include in your search not only by size and price, but also whether the price has been reduced, the home is for-sale-by-owner, the condition is "fixer-upper," the sale requires bank approval and the like. (That's under "more options.")

Trulia tallies up the price reductions in your area of interest and spits out a list, which you can edit to specify whether you just want the price reductions in, say, the past seven days. Then amuse yourself by sorting the list -- from highest price to low, by number of photos, etc.

(Unfortunately, the "number of photos" option can be fooled by those who upload each of their photos several times to inflate the grand total. At least that's the impression I get from the listing that has 84 photos, only 28 of them unique. Tsk, tsk.), which bills itself as the first wiki multiple-listing site, offers up its listings in spreadsheet format, which looks decidedly un-flashy but allows you to see a lot of information about a lot of homes at a glance -- including the asking price, the original asking price and the assessed value. (Press a button and export it directly into your own spreadsheet.)

Some sites let you search just the places having open houses in the near future. Here's the list that HomesDatabase spits out for Baltimore.

And some tally up market-area data. might be best known for its Zestimates of individual homes, but it also shows overall stats on asking prices, sale prices and its estimation of how home values have changed. (On a related note: First American CoreLogic has just sued Zillow over its Zestimates, and several other real estate companies over their home-valuation efforts, alleging that the firms are infringing on its automated appraisal patent.)

What features do you find most useful when you're looking at homes for sale? What's plain annoying?

What do you wish someone would add?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Real estate online

January 7, 2010

A mobile site for home-searching on the go

There are a lot of apps out there for people who like to check out home info from their phones while on the go -- Zillow's, Trulia's and Smarter Agent's, for instance. Now comes online real estate broker Sawbuck Realty, which says it has just launched the "first location-aware mobile real estate search website" at

Why a site and not an app? Sawbuck says it preferred to go with tech that "doesn’t require a download, opening a separate program to see search results, or a specific mobile platform." The site is designed to detect where you are by your smartphone's GPS.

My phone is not smart ("you stupid phone" is, in fact, what I often find myself saying to it as I'm trying to use it), so I haven't tried out any home-related apps. Have you? What's useful and what isn't? Do you use them as a tool for home searching or lookylooing?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Real estate online

August 7, 2009

Useful real estate sites

I thought some of you might appreciate a post on useful websites for the housing crowd. You old hands out there know them all already, I'm sure, but hey -- you can hum a tune to yourself while I bring everyone else up to date. And then you can comment with useful sites I forgot to mention. Win-win!

In no particular order:

Real Property Data Search. Want to find out what homes sold in the last year on a street you're thinking about moving to? Wonder what the seller of a home you're thinking of buying paid when he bought? The state's assessors know, and they share on this site.

MdLandRec.Net. This site -- put together by the Maryland Judiciary and Maryland State Archives -- collects records such as mortgage documents. You need to sign up, but it's free.

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' stats page. MRIS, which runs the multiple-listing service in the region, issues statistics every month about sales and prices. You can see figures by metro area, jurisdiction and ZIP code.

The federal government's House Price Index. Once run by OFHEO, now the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the HPI is an apples-to-apples look at prices in metro areas and states. It compares sales and refinancings of the same homes over the years.

Then, of course, there are many -- many -- sites that have real estate listings and related information. Craigslist. Google. HomeGain. HomesDatabase. Roost. Sawbuck. Trulia. (And that's just some of them.)

What sites have you found useful? Share, share!

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Real estate online

July 8, 2009

Local condo law blog launched

Here's something to check out if you're a condo owner: Raymond D. Burke, a Baltimore attorney with law firm Ober Kaler, has started blogging about condo issues at Maryland Condo Law Blog. So far he's weighed in on mold, warranties and maintenance.

Burke specializes in construction defect cases.

Other condo-law attorneys see their field as a ripe one for blogging, too. There's a Northwest Condo & HOA Law Blog, for instance, and an Ontario Condo Law Blog.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:49 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Real estate online

July 6, 2009

More search options for home buyers

You might use Google to search for a variety of things, but chances are you don't for real estate listings. Thing is, you can.

Search Engine Land, a search engine news site, notes today that Google Maps has expanded its real estate information. To take a look, throw in "Baltimore real estate" on the site, then click on the option to "Search for real estate listings near Baltimore, MD." (If you don't click that option, you'll see a map dotted with real estate companies and organizations.)

What you get isn't all you can find on the established real estate search engines. But you might find it useful:

On the map, each individual listing, whether a property for sale or rent, behaves like a business listing does in Google Maps’ business search. Users can click the red icon/dot for more information about the property; they can get directions, save the listing to My Maps, or send the listing to someone else via email, phone, car, or GPS.

I was interested to see how local listings (at least the ones Google could find) were spread out in nearly all the nooks and crannies of the area. You really can get a fuller perspective by seeing something mapped out.

I also tried searching for Baltimore real estate on Google Base. There, you can specify if you want to see properties for sale or for rent, or things that are being sublet, or even rooms for rent. Google Base tells you where it's pulling the information, so you can jump to those sites if you want to search them directly.

Thanks to the excellent Liz Kay for noticing the Search Engine Land article! Seen any other interesting housing-search options lately?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:19 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Real estate online

July 1, 2009

Real estate for the Facebook crowd has updated its real estate information site with a nod to social media, including a news feed of home listings that's a lot like the friend status updates on Facebook. Choose Baltimore as your city of search, and you'll see this compilation of new listings and price changes. (You can see sales and contracts, too, but only if you register.)

The Sawbuck site also offers its take on housing-market health, rating Baltimore a 58 -- "Not Healthy," though closer to "Barely Healthy" (60-69) than "Deteriorating" (40-49). The scale runs from 0 to 99.

Market activity varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, of course -- that's true nationwide. How would you rate the housing-market health in your neighborhood? (I realize this is tricky because "deteriorating" in a seller's mind might be "improving" from a buyer's perspective. Hmm: Maybe choose a number from 0 to 99 with 0 being a market where buyers can get homes for nothing and 99 where sellers can successfuly demand a buyer's first-born child in exchange for accepting their offer?)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Real estate online

May 14, 2009

Tweet all about it

I've been hammered over the head enough about Twitter, the micro-blogging site, that I am now sufficiently fuzzy-headed enough to think you might care what I have to tweet about.

If you're among the ranks of Twitter users, feel free to check out And please do comment below if you often write about housing-related subjects on Twitter so I can return the favor.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Real estate online

May 9, 2009

Community-focused websites: Your finds

In a recent post about blogs and websites focused on housing, development or local neighborhoods, I asked you all if you've run across other sites worth pointing out. Naturally, you have.

MCG suggested Change Baltimore, a new blog that opines about problems and promises future solutions.

Carson recommended the Washington Village Development Association's blog, which details efforts to clean the neighborhood -- complete with photos of trash-wrangling and of troublesome vacant properties. (WVDA has videos here.)

These Wonk readers also noted that a lot of neighborhoods have Yahoo groups where folks can keep abreast of local happenings. Not usually in the same category as muckraking sites, of course, but a potentially useful tool for residents and people thinking of moving in. Here's a list of Yahoo groups you get when you search on "Baltimore neighborhood."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Real estate online

May 2, 2009

Housing site gets "street views"

HomeGain, one of a number of real estate sites geared toward buyers and sellers, now offers Google Street View to give you a panoramic peek at what properties look like.

Here, for example, is what you get when you type in 501 N. Calvert Street, the Sun's HQ.

Google, which has been furiously photographing the world, added street views of Baltimore in November. That means you can give people a taste of your neighborhood -- or other neighborhoods in the area -- by sending them a link. Advertising and public relations firm MGH, for instance, offers this view of Hampden. Hi, Hon!

Google Street View has sparked arguments about privacy rights and safety concerns vs. "let the information flow." Where do you come down in the debate? Are its photos useful or harmful for neighborhoods? If you're an out-of-towner thinking of moving here, is Street View helpful to you?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Real estate online

April 29, 2009

Using the power of the Internet

Both Q&As this week came to pass because I happened upon (or was pointed toward) a website trumpeting an idea. It's now cheap and easy -- beyond an investment of time -- to present your point of view to the world, and some local folks are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Here are other ones I've noticed on the subject of housing, development and/or neighborhoods, in alphabetical order:

Baltimore City's Past Present and Future. A blog with photos of past and present community conditions and suggestions for improvement. For instance, on the subject of whether Westport redevelopment will do anything for the wider neighborhood, blogger Spence writes that "we'll have to knock down some barriers in order to make it an all around success." The blogger also keeps a blog about the future of Columbia.

Baltimore Grows. "Real estate, development, and life in Baltimore," as the site notes. Bloggers point readers toward Baltimore-centric news, chat about new restaurants and opine on development proposals. A ongoing poll asks, "Who's Baltimore's Best Mayor?" (Schaefer is winning by a wide margin.)

Baltimore Housing Bubble. Started in 2007, this blog was among a number nationwide that predicted big declines in home values because prices rose much faster than incomes during the earlier buying frenzy. Bloggers Kevin and Adam officially retired the site last October, but they've posted a few times since then.

baltimore john watch. Residents of Washington Village/Pigtown blog about the problem of out-of-town men who troll the neighborhood for prostitutes and sometimes bother women who are not practicing the so-called oldest profession. The bloggers want to turn things around, whether by shaming the men or getting outraged residents to lobby for more city government help. One recent post describes a john, notes his license plate number and says "it is hazardous to one's health to try to pick up respectable women as they're trying to cross the light."

Baltimore Slumlord Watch. This blog -- which says it was started "by a resident who was tired of watching out of town 'investors' and others destroy neighborhoods as a result of their negligence" -- names names, lists addresses, posts photos and tells people which council district each derelict property is in, for ease of complaining to the appropriate council member. About a boarded-up North Fulton Avenue property, the blogger writes: "The owner has seen his fair share of foreclosure hearings and housing court violations — not surprising.  We have to wonder is anyone in the city paying attention to this revolving list of names?"

What other local sites or blogs have you seen in this vein? Point me toward a bunch of other ones, and I'll make up a new list.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Real estate online

April 23, 2009

"For Sale" 2.0

David Hobby, photographer extraordinaire and former colleague, is the guy who put the idea of blogging into my head. Because his blog is about photography lighting, though, it seemed extremely unlikely that I'd ever link to him with my Wonk hat on. But today, photography and real estate intersect.

He's just posted a how-to that shows home sellers a way to use a blog as a "buy my home" brochure. Launch, tweak, upload photos (lots and lots of photos), link to neighborhood restaurants and other attractions, embed map. Cost: zero dollars. (Why is he doing a how-to? Because he just put one together for his own home.)

Sellers have been turning to the Internet in greater numbers -- the tough market is the stick and cheap-or-free Web 2.0 options are the carrot. I've seen sites with snazzy video walk-throughs. But for sellers or agents looking for a no-cost alternative, there's always (or whatever blog system you like best).

Hobby knows some people will do this as part of a "For Sale By Owner" strategy, but his house is on the multiple list -- he launched his blog-brochure as an additional resource.

Sellers: Do you have a dedicated site or blog for your home? If so, share in the comments. Buyers: Do you find these sorts of sites helpful?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:39 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Real estate online
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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