The (former) Porch hacker talks stupid tech buzzwords, nectarines and whiskey, and misaligned incentives, plus why “disruptive” technology is anything but.

Editor’s note: Timothy Ellis has left Porch to return to the hardware engineering world at a small startup; Friday, Dec. 19, was his last day.

Timothy Ellis

Data scientist at Porch

Time at Porch: 1 year

What he does: I’m an analyst, engineer and writer who uncovers data-based real estate insights and distills them for a non-technical audience. 

Age: 34

Degree:  B.S. in electrical engineering, Seattle Pacific University

Location: Seattle

Social media: LinkedIn and Twitter

During the height of the real estate bubble in the spring and summer of 2005, my wife and I started looking for our first home. After seeing how ridiculous prices were, watching every halfway decent listing receive multiple offers almost immediately after hitting the market, and having a mortgage broker try to sell us on a zero-down, interest-only loan, we quickly realized that something was seriously awry with the housing market.

At that point, I had no experience with real estate, but, like any good engineer, I began to disassemble the housing market to see how it worked. In August 2005, I started Seattle Bubble as a place to collect my work and share it with others, and by 2007 traffic to the site had grown to 75,000 visits per month.

That led to a three-year stint as a real estate data scientist at Redfin, where I helped launch a series of monthly real estate reports, and then, in 2013, to my current data analyst position at the home services matchmaking site Porch. (In March, realtor.com began embedding Porch home remodeling info in its listing detail pages.)

Porch has put together a vast data store that combines home facts and sales information with public and private data on millions of home improvement projects and professionals. As part of the analytics team at Porch, I tap into that data, as well as internal user metrics, to perform a variety of analyses.

My work crosses between many different departments, focusing on user behavior, business partnerships and the performance of site features. I also work with the public relations and marketing teams to tell unique, data-driven stories about the home improvement market through the Porch Advice blog.

In addition to publishing Seattle Bubble in my spare time, I also run Looney Listing, a site focused on crazy homes for sale and ridiculous listing photos.

Tim-Ellis-porch-workspace
Ellis’ workspace at Porch.

Favorite Twitter account?

Right now I would have to say @NateSilver538, but I’m also a big fan of @NickTimiraos.

What is your favorite food?

Nectarines. And Whiskey.

What is your favorite video game?

I’m a big fan of the “Tropico” series, as well as most other city-simulator games like “Banished” or “SimCity 4.”

What is your favorite city?

I’d probably have to go with New York, despite how absurdly unaffordable housing is there.

Who’s your favorite band or singer?

Owl City.

What do you hate about technology?

Stupid buzzwords. For example, much of what is described as “disruptive” in tech is really just slightly novel or sometimes barely even interesting. Like real estate sites that are nothing more than yet another middleman. Selling ads to real estate agents is not “disruptive.” Or calling it the “sharing economy” when people sell each other services and a tech company takes a cut off the top. Those kinds of things are just dumb.

What is one thing you would like to fix about the real estate industry?

I think one of the biggest problems that remains prevalent in the real estate industry is the misalignment of incentives between agents and consumers. There are a number of companies working on a variety of approaches to solve this problem. Hopefully many of them will be successful over the long term.

Do you think technology can change the industry?

Technology has already dramatically changed the industry, bringing us from binders full of paper, accessible only to the gatekeepers at the brokerage to instant online access to every home for sale, direct to consumers. Nobody knows where we’ll be in another 10 or 20 years, but I guarantee technology will continue to bring dramatic change to the industry.

In or out of real estate, is there one problem, large or small, that you would like to solve?

There are a number of problems in other fields that I think would be interesting to solve, but I can’t say too much without giving away my next big project!

What motivates you?

My motivation comes from seeing the positive effects of my work. I try my best to be a valuable resource for homebuyers and sellers, providing sound advice and analysis regardless of the current market conditions. I’m continually inspired by all of the people who have contacted me over the years to thank me for helping them make smart decisions on the biggest purchase of their life.

Would you like to participate in our real estate hacker profile series? Email contributors@inman.com.

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