In the last year, the Seattle area has become one of online real estate’s main creative arteries, serving as the headquarters to numerous startups including Zillow and Redfin, as well as established companies like Windermere, John L. Scott and HouseValues.
The latest real estate site to trace its roots to this rainy city is ShackPrices.com, which plots home listings in the Seattle area and western Washington state on Google maps.
ShackPrices.com went live a few weeks ago, and joins a growing list of sites aiming to simplify the hunt for real estate. Its founder, Galen Ward, has a technical background in mapping and databases and is a contributor to the Rain City Guide real estate blog.
Other real estate search sites vying for consumer attention include Trulia, HomePages.com, Realtor.com and the many broker-operated sites that also include listings.
“Our goal at the site is to make the process of finding and buying a home easier for consumers,” Ward said. Unlike some real estate search sites, ShackPrices is a member of the multiple listing service, which enables it to display a more comprehensive list of local properties for sale than a site operated by a nonmember.
The site enables consumers to enter home-search criteria from the homepage, and also features “Suggested Shacks” — homes that buyers might be interested in viewing based on their criteria and a proprietary algorithm.
Ward notes the importance of “all the niche decisions that go into buying a home” like neighborhood information that he felt were lacking in many existing real estate sites.
“When I started making maps and working in spatial databases four to five years ago, it occurred to me one day that the world is really lacking in info about what’s nearby a house. You could look up the price and size and stats on a house, but it was really lacking on the context of what the neighborhood was like, how close it is to amenities, what the views are,” he said.
With that in mind, he built a real estate search site that shows what’s nearby for every listing, as well as a list of recently sold comparable homes, and other details. The site also gives info on neighborhood market conditions such as number of homes currently on the market, average price, average square footage, and average time on the market, among other details. Each neighborhood includes links to popular places and commentary on the area from 43places.com.
Ward says ShackPrices.com is a “work in progress” and that he and partner Doug Cole will be working on improvements all throughout 2007. The site is entirely self-funded and only available in the state of Washington, but Ward hopes to expand to more states this year.
Consumers can sign up for a free ShackPrices account, which enables them to save home searches, receive daily and weekly e-mails showing newly listed homes for sale, and also receive RSS feeds for saved home searches.
Ward said plans are underway to develop a program to connect consumers to real estate agents. He didn’t disclose details about how the program will work or whether agents will pay for leads or referral fees.
For now, search is the main component of ShackPrices, Ward said. “In a perfect world a site would help you find houses in a simple, yet powerful way,” he said — a hint at what to expect from ShackPrices going forward.