Fidelity launches home-value site

Cyberhomes.com joins growing list of online valuation tools

There are a lot of ways today to get an estimated value for your home on the Internet. Add another one to the list: Cyberhomes.com.

Industry heavyweight Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions, a division of title insurance and real estate services company Fidelity National Financial, this week launched an automated valuation tool that includes data for about 100 million homes.

The site draws upon Fidelity’s previous work in home valuations and its extensive database of information that includes property, ownership, sales and mortgage records covering about 85 percent of the country’s population. While Fidelity products typically cater to companies in the real estate industry, this Web site targets consumers and is free to use.

Marty Frame, chief information officer for Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions, said the company is offering up the Cyberhomes valuation tool for real estate companies to place at their Web sites for a fee. “We think this is the right time on the Internet to take the incredible assets that we have and simply put them online,” Frame said.

He noted that there are several other companies offering online home-valuation tools to consumers, and the development team looked at the existing models in building Cyberhomes. Zillow.com, launched this year by Expedia.com founder Richard Barton, Internet Brands’ RealEstateABC.com site and Saris Technologies’ eppraisal.com site are among the examples of sites offering automated valuations for millions of U.S. homes. Another company, Visient, offers Your Home Valuation, a tool that is integrated with real estate brokers’ Web sites. And Realtor.com, a National Association of Realtors-affiliated property search site, and ColdwellBanker.com also offer home-valuation tools.

Frame, who joined Fidelity in May after serving for about nine years as a technologist at Homestore, now called Move Inc., said Cyberhomes began development in June and was launched to the public in beta form Wednesday.

He noted that Fidelity’s property data licensing business has about 160 million residential real estate records, and the company also draws from appraisal and appraisal review information in crafting its value estimates.

The genesis for the site is the fact that most online real estate searches are conducted by window shoppers who are not serious buyers and sellers. And while companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to capture online traffic and generate online leads, Frame said that about nine in 10 real estate searchers aren’t going to participate in a transaction that year.

Cyberhomes, he said, is designed as a tool to supply information without pestering consumers. For those who are interested in a transaction, the Cyberhomes valuation platform provides an avenue for consumers to contact agents, he said. “Consumers don’t want to be a lead. The consumer goal here, because most people want to be just left alone … is totally transparent access to information,” Frame said.

The Web site offers an estimate for a specified property and also an estimate range. The site also provides basic information about the home, interactive maps, average sales price for the area, a list of comparable homes that were recently sold in the area, and the ability to refine the valuation based on changes to the home. Site users can tweak the home valuation based on a long list of home improvements, such as remodels or additions.

The tools allowing valuation changes for individual properties are robust compared to some other consumer-facing valuation tools on the market, Frame said. “There are others who have tried that and in our opinion they’ve done them in a little bit of a blunt way,” he said, adding that the formulas used at Cyberhomes reach “an incredibly granular level.”

While Fidelity seeks affiliations with real estate companies and others, there are no plans at this point to market the site using keyword advertising, for example. “We think the right way to (market) this is through the real estate industry and through our affiliates,” he said. Already, Frame said that site has been demonstrated for a number of real estate companies.

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