I’m a relocation junkie — so much so that even when I’m not actually planning a move, which is something I tend to do every couple of years, I enjoy researching neighborhoods that I might want to live in someday.
Thanks to a startup, PicketReport.com, there’s now a new way for homebuyers (and moving hobbyists like me) to learn about a local area long before they ever visit it in person.
Founded by Bryan Kunka, Brian Bandemer and Patrick Misch, PicketReport.com’s mission is to make it easier for consumers to find the perfect neighborhood.
PicketReport.com founders (from left to right) Patrick Misch, Bryan Kunka and Brian Bandemer.
Since everyone has different interests and budgets, and no two neighborhoods are alike, PicketReport.com relies on multiple data sources to provide home shoppers with a better sense of what it might be like in a particular area.
Users search a map by address, city or ZIP code to get detailed information on school test scores, neighborhood walkability, local businesses and crime reports. There’s also a lifestyle feature that uses demographic data to describe neighborhoods according to categories like "promising families" or "thriving boomers."
Kunka, whose own neighborhood lifestyle is described as "blue-collar comfort," was working as a relocation consultant at In-House Realty — a Detroit-based real estate brokerage affiliate of Quicken Loans — when he received an email about a nonprofit entrepreneurial incubator program in Detroit called Bizdom U.
Both In-House Realty and Bizdom are part of the Quicken Loans Family of companies, and Kunka jumped at the opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
While at Bizdom, Kunka met co-founder Bandemer and — after ruling out a few other possibilities — they came up with the idea for PicketReport.com in October 2010. A few months later, they teamed up with co-founder and chief technology officer Misch and the company was funded by Bizdom in April 2011.
Still a small team of four, PicketReport.com has launched the beta version of its service and is busy working on a number of new features and products.
PicketReport.com will be participating in Startup Alley at Inman News’ upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, and I asked Kunka about neighborhood search and what the team has planned in the coming months.
Q: PicketReport.com is based in Detroit. What’s it like to start a company there?
A: Detroit is an awesome place to start a business. The startup scene here is really taking off. Office space is inexpensive, we have access to amazing talent through the state’s universities (the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University), and we have fantastic food!
Downtown Detroit is loaded with culture, history and people who are proud to be Detroiters. The city is rebounding and we are so pumped to be a part of it!
Q: Given that there are other resources to help people find neighborhood information, what’s your key value proposition?
A: Our goal is to be visual and memorable. To tell stories about the type of person that you should expect to live in a particular area. We provide a map-based solution with lots of graphics and visuals.
We use terms like "power elite" to help people remember what lifestyle group they are in. We use crime report cards to easily identify if an area is low crime, or an "A" grade; average crime ("C" grade); or high crime ("F" grade).
Until now, you had to drive around to see if the area is kid-friendly. Now all you have to do is go to PicketReport.com and we tell you, without stepping foot in your car and wasting your time and gas.
We also help with relocation. Relocations happen really fast and one of the top reasons why relocations fail is that the family doesn’t get acclimated to the area. With PicketReport.com, we help people who are relocating understand all about the community before they even agree to move.
Q: Since PicketReport.com is free to users, how do you plan to make money?
A: This was a big decision because our original revenue model was to charge a monthly subscription fee for real estate agents and relocation companies to use our product.
But about six months ago we were able to negotiate our data costs down enough to handle incredibly large amounts of traffic, which allowed us to go with a free model.
We got a ton of feedback saying that the information is great, but our clients want it on their own websites. So now we sell a widget with our information that is available for real estate, relocation and mortgage companies, and any other websites that might need it.
We also have a branded page that we sell to relocation and corporate housing companies that caters specifically to their clients. And lastly, and most excitingly, we have something big brewing for the mortgage industry.
Q: What vendors do you work with to get your data?
A: We work with Education.com for school information, CrimeReports.com and the FBI for crime information, data-mining companies for our lifestyle information, and WalkScore and SimpleGeo for our neighborhood information.
Q: What would you say to critics who think PicketReport.com could hurt homeowners or real estate agents who are trying to sell properties in neighborhoods that don’t have the best schools or the lowest crime rates?
A: The information we provide is designed to be accurate, above all else. We aren’t in the business of painting a pretty picture of neighborhoods that aren’t actually pretty. We are here to show you exactly what is there. We realize that the crime data can be eye-opening at times.
Our goal is not to deter people from buying or renting in certain neighborhoods, but to give you the best information about the area before you check it out for yourself! Our lifestyle information, however, does a really great job of shining a positive light in areas that some may view as not so great.
Q: How do you hope real estate professionals will use PicketReport.com?
A: We want real estate agents to use our website or widget as a way to make them more efficient. We want them to send their clients to our website, have their clients do a bunch of research on their own, and then get back with the real estate agent with a focused search area. This way, real estate agents aren’t driving around showing clients cities and neighborhoods that they’re not interested in — wasting time and gas.
Q: Are there any new products or features you’re working on that you can tell us about?
A: We have a few major rollouts coming up in the next six months. The biggest upgrade to the site itself will be our reverse search. Users will be able to enter information about the lifestyle they are looking for and we will be able to identify which area would be the best fit for that lifestyle.
We plan to release a mobile app sometime in the next six months. Our mortgage product is what I am most excited about. We anticipate it will be up and running by February or March. It is designed to help mortgage companies convert better on all of their home purchase leads.
Want to recommend a RE tech startup for an upcoming Startup Scene? Send your ideas to Natalie Fonseca at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natalie Fonseca is the co-founder and executive producer of Tech Policy Summit and the Privacy Identity Innovation (pii) conference, and the content producer for Inman News’ Data Summit and Real Estate Connect. You can follow her at @TechPolicy.