A killer app for real estateCommentary: It's still possible to do new, cool things onlineBy John C. DvorakLast Update: 1:06 PM ET Oct. 13, 2005 BERKELEY, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- Anyone who has given up on cool Web-based ideas should rethink that strategy.I met with these folks about a month ago, and I went in skeptical about any sort of real estate Web site. I mean, I can do one in my spare time.Not like this one, though.Having seen the site in action, I now think that this company could, in fact, dominate the online real-estate scene with a clever integration of online features that will trigger homes sales and please the industry.The service, rolled out this last Tuesday, is called Home Pages: www.homepages.com.With it the company may actually have created a killer application for satellite mapping software.Here's what it's done:Say you are looking for a home. With Home Pages you can look at homes that are listed by a broker and the multiple-listing services. By "look at" I don't mean just the jpeg photos that anyone can post on the Internet but an aerial view of the house and neighborhood. It's like looking at the house and the surrounding area from a helicopter.On top of that, you can overlay boundary lines for school districts, fire departments and other critical information that shows the relationship of the house to all sorts of variables. Where are the parks? Where is the beach? Conceptually this Web site is about as advanced as anything I've seen in years, and the potential for it to become the real-estate standard on a nationwide basis is great. Nobody else seems to be as far along with anything like this.HouseValues expects to make money from fees provided by brokers -- who would be crazy not to use this system as a value-added sales tool. Home buyers, I can assure you, will flock to this site just to play around. That may be the only flaw in the idea -- bandwidth wasted on tire kickers and people who want to motor around their own neighborhood.According to the company, the maps are not Google maps turned into a new application. When I compared the maps side-by-side with Google's it was obvious they'd come from different satellite-map providers, and, on Home Pages, I could get one extra step closer to the ground, although the detail was somewhat fuzzy. What I consider a bug is the fact that to get the most zoomed-in on the map you actually click on the map rather than the slider bar. I'd hope this would be corrected soon.While not using Google maps as its basis, other Home Pages databases seem to have common ground with Google and other mapping software systems. I say this because in one of my tests Home Pages misplaces a specific known address exactly where Google misplaces it. The wrong house!It also does not seem to have all the local schools marked properly, and again this is a function of some database the company is using.These errors seem to be more indicative of poor-quality commercial databases than anything else. (You can just image all the erroneous information about you personally that's accumulating elsewhere.)Another flaw centers around the CEO, Ian Morris. Morris is a sharp ex-Microsoft executive who, like many Microsoft executives, actually resembles Bill Gates -- an oddity of Microsoft personnel that I have observed for years. Morris has a promotional Web log that I can only assume exists because Morris or someone read someplace that CEOs should have blogs because it brings them closer to the customer and personalizes the business. This is hogwash and actually can damage the company image when done insincerely. You can see the Morris blog here: http://www.housevalues.com/AboutUs/AboutHV-CEOBlog.aspx.When I last checked in, the blog hadn't been updated since June 13, and the entries were inane ramblings that did nothing for credibility or image. If the blog disappears soon, you'll know somebody is reading this column.The good news for investors is that this company did an IPO last year, and the stock is hovering around the IPO price. Were this 1999, it would have skyrocketed in the months since its initial offering.This company is real, has revenues, has a great concept and appears to be a long-term winner.
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