Last year, Melissa Data turned 25. A much belated happy birthday.
Why am I celebrating Melissa’s birthday now? Well, because Melissa isn’t a woman — Melissa Data is a company based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and, readers, you wouldn’t be the first to be confused.
As Greg Brown, Melissa Data’s marketing director, tells me, not a trade show goes by without someone asking, "Where’s Melissa?"
Secondly, I’m celebrating Melissa Data’s birthday because this year the company is pushing into the business of supplying detailed property and mortgage data online.
The founder of Melissa Data wasn’t trying to be elliptical. He actually just named the company after himself, Raymond Melissa.
Although Melissa’s forefathers may have been from Italy, Melissa, boasts California roots. After graduating from Long Beach State University in the late 1960s, he spent the next decade founding a series of alphabet-weary companies — Eikon, Printronix, Trilog — that advanced the technology of computer printers.
In 1986 he changed directions. He gave up trying to originate companies with multisyllabic, techie-sounding titles and decided to name his new company after himself.
Melissa Data began corporate life as a firm that helped mailers save money on postage. Its first product was a ZIP code database. In fact, it introduced the first codification in digital format of ZIP codes.
Over time, the company developed mailing software applications that included postal presorting and address verification. Today, anyone who deals with contact data that needs verifications — whether it is a telephone number, name or address, can get that done through Melissa Data.
On the Web, the company’s Free Lookups site is used by 60,000 people every day. Free Lookups offers users access to more than 40 different search queries to verify addresses, find IP locations, get property info, validate a contractor’s background or discover email address information.
"In the beginning, Melissa Data was primarily a company for mailing houses and/or firms with large internal mail departments, because we provided a software solution that was certified by the Postal Service," Brown explained. "We are always up to date, as we get all our postal database changes directly from the post office, and there are hundreds of thousands of changes that take place monthly. Plus, we pull from other data sources and integrate it all."
It’s not just mailers that have turned to Melissa Data. "It’s anyone who needs their contact list cleaned, whether or not it is for compliance issues or some type of regulations," Brown said.
"For example, we have a very robust business in the health care industry. When patients come in, a health care provider wants to be able to verify if an address is correct before it works its way through the various in-house databases, medical records and billing systems."
My favorite service it offers is called Do-Not-Mail Scrubbing — a wonderful name.
So, with all this data — much of it property-oriented — flowing through its computer systems, Melissa Data decided to make further use of it all by allowing the data to be available to those who might need such information.
Earlier this year, the company announced that customers would be able to access detailed property and mortgage data on more than 140 million U.S. properties by using the company’s new WebSmart Property Web Service.
Although the service has been introduced, Brown said it is still being beta-tested — at this point it is not really for everyone and is targeted to corporate use.
"We have a lot of different companies that have shown some interest," said Brown.
My immediate thought was that a big real estate network such as a Keller Williams or Century 21 might be able to use this to supplement in-house programs.
"That’s what we are anticipating," Brown said. "We will see a lot of real estate companies being interested because this is hard data from actual trust deeds or mortgage documents as opposed to some of the other online services where the information comes from self-reporting."
Brown claims WebSmart can be invaluable for such diverse organizations as property investors, mortgage and refinancing lenders, developers, real estate professionals, risk managers, insurance agencies and companies looking to target-market products and services to homeowners.
Couldn’t a Realtor just get that kind of information from the multiple listing service?
"Sure, any Realtor can go to the MLS," Brown said, "but we have more information than what is listed on the MLS and all (of Melissa Data’s information) comes from recorded documents. Also … you can’t get the mortgage information (from the MLS)."
According to Brown, WebSmart property ownership changes are updated weekly.
The information seems to be robust.
WebSmart property data is divided into 12 main categories with more than 165 different information fields available, including:
- Parcel information: federal information processing standard (FIPS), aseessor parcel number (APN), latitude and longitude, tract, tax code area, zoning, number of buildings;
- Owner information (name, mailing address and phone number);
- Values information (calculated, accessed, appraised land/value/improvement marketing);
- Current sale information (recording, sale date/price/name, title company);
- Current trust deed information (mortgage, deed and lender);
- Prior sale information;
- Lot/land information (footage, lot and acreage);
- Square footage information (universal, building, living, ground, garage);
- Building information (year built, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, air conditioning, building code, condition, garage, construction, heating, fireplace, parking, pool, roof, utilities).
"This is really built to be scalable for large companies, so they can access the data in a subsecond on multiple properties," Brown said.
As to how companies will use all this data, even Brown doesn’t know the answer to that. "We have so many different types of companies that have been beta-testing, we will be interested in not just validation that the service works properly, but how they are using the data."
Only one type of company hasn’t been beta-testing the service — big residential real estate brokerage networks, he said.
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer in Arizona and author of several books. His latest book, "After the Fall: Opportunities and Strategies for Real Estate Investing in the Coming Decade," has been ranked as a top-selling real estate investment book for the Amazon Kindle e-reader.
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