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RSS Pick: Calculated Risk

If you are interested in keeping a finger on the pulse of national real estate, I can’t recommend Calculated Risk highly enough.  I’ve been following Bill McBride since the mid 2000s, when he was sounding the alarm about NINJA loans and subprime mortgages.  He was also anonymous for years, which lent a sense of mystery.  His co-blogger at the time, Tanta, wrote an especially illuminating series of posts on the mechanics of mortgages.  She makes it fascinating with her knowledge and tone.

His specialty is graphs and commentary on those graphs.   He covers a disparate set of data sets (the hotel industry, the trucking industry, restaurants, architectural billings, demographics), as well as more traditional ones (Fed reports, Case Shiller, housing starts).  He also posts a weekly schedule of upcoming economic reports and events.  The two problems I have with the blog are: there are a lot of ads on the site (which you can avoid by using an RSS reader) and that he’s too prolific and that you have to either commit a substantial portion of time or skim along all the data he’s made available.


Useful blogs for software developers in real estate

As I transition out of a full time role in real estate software development, I’m doing some cleaning up of my RSS feeds. (Yes, Virginia, people still use RSS readers. I’m a big fan of NewsBlur.)

If you are a software developer in the real estate space, here are some useful blogs to follow to understand the industry.

  • 1000 Watt is a consultancy that focuses on brokerages and realtors. If you like inside baseball, this is the blog to read. If you want to know about politics between portals and realtors, or high level strategies that 1000 Watt thinks will work for local brokers, or brokerage branding ideas, you should read this blog. They also do a good job of featuring the latest software startup to rock the real estate world. This blog is written by several members of the consultancy, but they all get bylines.
  • Calculated Risk is all about the big picture, the numbers and graphs. Bill McBride monitors the economy so you don’t have to. His real estate focus tends to be either nationwide or California, so he’s probably not going to write a post that is useful to your specific market, but his overall analysis of economic trends, whether positive or negative, is required reading. For instance, check out his job chart, which shows just how bad the great recession was, or the list of troubled banks (done by a contributor) or his graphs of other economic indicators like restaurant or trucking indices. If you are interested as a person or a developer in the mortgage market, read all of Tanta’s articles about mortgages–there’s a lot of money and lot of of complexity in that business (she passed away, but was a contributor for years).
  • The Geek Estate Blog is a unique fusion of technology and real restate. Drew Meyers was with Zillow and has done few startups outside of the real estate space. Because of this experience, he has a unique perspective on the real estate space and startups therein, and shares his perspective. Drew also takes guest posts (I’ve written a couple) and while sometimes they seem like thinly veiled sales pitches, other times they can clue you in to other technologies, startups or trends in the real estate world. I haven’t found a better source of real estate news that is focused on technology.
  • Your local excellent real estate blogger. In Boulder, that’s Osman Parvez of House Einstein, and no one else (I really like 8z’s market updates, but that only comes out once a month). I can’t tell you how to find this blog beyond searching for ‘[your location] real estate blogger’. They will most likely be a realtor (but they could be someone else–Dave Fratello wasn’t a realtor for a long time). They are using blogging as a bizdev tool and can give you a great view of your local market (for instance, check out this post about poptops in south Boulder, and this sample of his market stats).

Bonus read if you are a software developer looking to get into real estate: Game Plan is a book, not a blog, but I found it tremendously useful because it covers the recent history of the real estate business and will serve as a primer to get you up to speed on the various players and their concerns.

Finally, I also subscribed to some of the big tech giant tech blogs (Redfin, Zillow) but didn’t find much value in their sporadic posts.

If you are a software developer who is working in the real estate space, I’d love to know what you read.

Real estate public records data sources

If you are looking for public records data sources (deeds, sales transactions, assessor records) in an electronic format, you have four options.  Normally this data is kept at the county level, so there haven’t been too many companies that have rolled it up into a nationwide database.  Even for the companies that have, there are timing and data integrity issues that you should be aware of before you commit.

I listed options here because I had to do some digging to find them, and wanted to spare you that.

First, here are some possible solutions that don’t work.

So, what are your four options?

  1. If you are focused on a narrow geographic area, or want to take on a huge project, you can contact each county and see if they have an offering.  I contacted one local county and they wanted $700 for a CD of assessor data.  This has some obvious downsides, but may be enough for your needs.  (I expect some counties won’t offer electronic versions, but that is speculation.)
  2. Core Logic
  3. Data Quick
  4. LPS SiteX

In the latter three cases, you want to call and ask to talk to someone about ‘public record licensing’ if you want to do anything interesting with the data (remix it, aggregate it, display it to your customers, etc).  Public record licensing is not as straighforward as MLS IDX data licensing (and that is saying something!).  It looks like each deal is semi-custom.

You’ll want to speak to a sales representative for full details like pricing, update timing and geographic coverage.  Hope this helps!

List of online real estate solutions

I recently was involved with a extensive survey of online solutions for my employer, a real estate brokerage.  Some were open source, some commercial, some inexpensive and some expensive.  Basically, any full solution that might have worked was added to the list.  Some of these are aimed only at real estate agents (as opposed to a brokerage), but others definitely scale up to brokerages.  (I say full solutions, so you won’t see anything on the list like Onboard Informatics or Altos Research.)

I just wanted to list all of them here for posterity and to help anyone else looking for a real estate solution.