Monthly archives of “July 2012

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Reintroducing Dirt

Dirt is a tool that allows you to build your own real estate portfolio by collecting properties you like.

Reintroducing Dirt

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Dirt: Activity Feed (Wireframe)

In my last post, I discussed the problem that I think needs solving: There’s lots of real estate activity happening all around us and there’s no easy way to discover it, follow it and network around it. I used the example of a new house going up in my neighbourhood that I’ve been manually following — that is, driving by. 

I’d now like to start proposing solutions to this problem. Above, is a basic wireframe solution for a property based activity feed. The idea here is that users would be able to follow both properties and people. Anytime a property gets updated or a person being followed provides an update, it would show up in the activity feed. I really like the idea of creating my own custom portfolio of properties (by following them) and then getting a tailored newsfeed every time I launch Dirt. I really think something like this is lacking in the marketplace. 

The ‘GPS’ button at the top right is intended to satisfy another one of my wants. I’m often in a new neighbourhood or city and I just want to get a quick read on the market/area.

  • How much does real estate cost in this area? How much new development is in the pipeline?
  • What do the apartments look like inside that cool looking building?
  • Who owns this building?

The list goes on. By hitting ‘GPS’, the idea is that the activity feed would simply switch from a tailored newsfeed (based on my “portfolio” of properties) to just the activity that’s happening around me. It would also be a great way for users to discover new properties and people to follow and interact with.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a number of other Dirt wireframes. Next up will be the series of screens that allow users to input new property activity.

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The Problem on Greenlaw

This is a new house under construction in my neighbourhood at 130 Greenlaw Ave. It’s been under construction for what seems like years as it underwent multiple periods of inactivity. It was formerly a small run-down bungalow. The site is narrow. But the new house under construction looks modern and promising. 

As a real estate professional and area resident, this project interests me. I like to see good development taking place in the city and I, particularly, like to see good development taking place in my neighbourhood. Previously, I spoke about Dirt targeting real estate pros, but I think there’s an opportunity here for it reach beyond the industry. Lots of people have an interest in and are impacted by real estate. 

In any case, I drive by this property on an almost daily basis and it got me wondering a number of things.

First, is this property going to be modern or some crappy faux-historic suburban style house? Then the flat roof went in and I sighed relief that it was likely the former. A sign also went up showcasing the architecture firm. I emailed them to ask them about the property (the first time the site went inactive). I received no response.

At this point, I was wondering, did the owner run out of money? What did they pay for that one storey bungalow? Must have been in the high $400,000s given what I’m seeing in the area. Maybe he/she thinks they can’t turn a profit. But wait, maybe it’ll be owner occupied. I tried googling the address to see what I could uncover, but found nothing.

Now, working in the industry obviously has a lot to do with the things I was wondering, but it doesn’t negate the fact that herein lies a problem. A problem that I want to solve with my startup.

  • Why is there no easy way for me to get the answers to all of my questions?
  • Why can’t I follow this property so that I just get notified when new information becomes available?
  • Why is all the information I want so fragmented?

There are people out there with the answers to my questions, but there’s no centralized place for it to be shared and distributed. Sure, if this property eventually goes up for sale I’ll see it on MLS, but I want more info that and I want it immediately. 

That’s where Dirt comes in.

Dirt is envisaged as a crowd-sourcing tool for professionals (and enthusiasts or maybe just nosy neighbours) to discover, track and share the real estate activity happening around them.

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Take a look at this finely crafted piece of graphic design.

This is a public notice sign. It’s what the City of Toronto uses to announce to the public that an application/development proposal has been made. Caveat: The City has since added a photo of the project.

This approach irks me for a number of reasons.

First, and this is the architect in me, it does not convey the development project in a meaningful way. All 45-storey towers are not created equal and by simply stating the height it paves the way for NIMBY’ism (Not In My Back Yard). What about the massing of the project? I could give you plenty examples of 20 storey buildings that are far more offensive than a slender 40 storey tower.

Second, they’re called public notice signs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that “Application No. 06 235235…”, “official plan amendment”, or “amendment to the zoning by-law” resonate all that much with the general public. Dave Meslin handles this topic well in his TEDx talk and argues that it actively discourages public engagement.

Third, and most important to the topic of Dirt, is this an effective way of communicating in the 21st century? This is a form of real estate activity. It’s it’s the ground work for a future development. Developers often take the approach that it’s better to fly under the radar to avoid community opposition, but is improving community engagement actually the answer? I’ve spoken about startup Popularise before and they’re doing exactly that: Asking communities what they want to see built.

To bring this back to Dirt, my point is that a lot of activity related to real estate is being lost in the shuffle: planning applications, construction, transactions, cool new designs, etc. Dirt is intended as a crowd-sourcing tool to capture all of this information so that it can be disseminated in targeted ways.

However, one thing I’ve struggled with is whether or not this should be a tool for professionals, consumers, community constituents or all of the above? Is the average person interested in city building or is it a niche market for professionals/enthusiasts? I’m a difficult judge because I’m the biggest city geek around — would love to get your thoughts (leave a comment).