When Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses 500 years ago, it sparked a reformation that profoundly changed how Christians interacted with their ultimate source of truth: the Bible. Rather than accessing that truth through the intermediary of the Catholic church – which often added its own layer of explanation on top of the Scriptures — believers were ultimately able to read the scriptures in their own language and interpret it on their own thanks to the ripple effects of the reformation.
But it wasn’t just theological innovation that helped quickly spread the Protestant Reformation. The technological innovation of the printing press about 75 years prior to the 1517 posting of the 95 theses enabled the bible to be printed in new languages more quickly and cost-effectively.
From Dictatorship to Democracy for Property Data
First there has been a major philosophical change when it comes to property data over the last decade. Once only accessible to select gatekeepers such as multiple listing services, brokers, real estate agents, and title companies, data disrupters such as Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and RealtyTrac have been willing to democratize all sorts of property data to anybody with an internet connection.
ATTOM Data Solutions is proud to claim this philosophy of property data disruption as part of its heritage. The forerunner to ATTOM was RealtyTrac, a company that first started posting foreclosure notices such as notices of default, notices of trustee’s sale, and bank repossessions (REO) in Southern California on the internet as early as 1996. Prior to RealtyTrac, only a select group of industry insiders had access to these foreclosure notices – which were typically mailed out on a weekly basis by title companies.
Ten years later, this open property data philosophy exponentially expanded to the broader market with the launch of Zillow, Trulia and Redfin in 2006. Rather than rely solely on real estate agents to provide them with listings of homes for sale, consumers could now easily access that information nationwide in one central location. Those same websites – along with RealtyTrac and others – also eventually began including public record property data from county tax assessors and recorders, even for off-market properties not on the MLS.
Harmonizing Discordant Real Estate Data
It’s important to note, however, that the philosophical shift toward making property data available to the masses continues to be a work in progress. On the listing side, the myriad MLSs across the country still wield significant power over the data, and in the realm of public record property data – under which foreclosure data falls – the lack of clear national data standards mean the data is messy, often delivered in thousands of format variations corresponding to the thousands of county offices sourcing the data.
This problem of messy public record property data is in a sense the exact opposite of the problem of the Bible only being available in one language – Latin – that Luther addressed as part of his 95 theses. Rather than just one language only available to a few, public record property data is available in a multitude of county-specific languages making it hard to merge, contrast and compare the data across different U.S. geographies.
Although we’ve been dealing with the reality of messy public record property data for the last 20 years since RealtyTrac began posting foreclosure notices, that reality ratcheted to a whole new level about five years ago when we began collecting and licensing the broader tax, deed and mortgage file. Since then we’ve been working hard to harmonize the discordant data from the multitude of sources in a process we call fusion. Although we’ve not reached perfection yet in that regard, we’re confident that the most recent iteration of this fused data is the cleanest and most digestible public record property data available in the marketplace.
Data Delivery Innovation
But just like the Protestant Reformation needed both theological and technological innovation, a true property data reformation requires not just philosophical innovation toward democratization of the data, it also requires innovation in the platforms used to deliver the data.
For the last three decades, it would have been more accurate to use the word platform rather than platforms – at least when it comes to bulk consumption of the data. Any enterprise customer (i.e. a Zillow or Trulia, Redfin or RealtyTrac) wanting to provide the data to individual consumers was forced to ingest the data via a massive, flat database file delivered via FTP.
In more recent years, some API delivery of the public record property data has become available, and ATTOM is leading the charge in that respect (see “Streaming Your Own Property Data List” in by ATTOM CTO Todd Teta).
While the API delivery platform is a welcome and long-overdue innovation for many businesses consuming property data, it is not a good fit for a substantial set of use cases. Primarily these use cases revolve around using the data to create targeted lists of homeowners for marketing products and services that those homeowners are likely to need in the near future.
Enterprise customers who have the financial and database management wherewithal to ingest the massive nationwide or even regional bulk tax, deed and mortgage file can then leverage that asset to create targeted marketing lists (in addition to other applications they create to leverage the data). But that misses a large swath of small businesses and entrepreneurial customers who may not have the capacity to ingest the full bulk file. Think of real estate investors or contractors or pool cleaning services, just to mention a few.
Property Data Mining for Marketing Lists
It’s for these middle-market enterprise customers that RealtyTrac created its Marketing List Platform several years ago. And while we have devoted customers who have built and grown their business with this platform, we recognize that it is ripe for innovation that will exponentially improve the user experience and put this platform head and shoulders above any other similar marketing platforms now available in the marketplace.
The new platform – which we’re dubbing ATTOM List – just launched this week and includes an expanded data footprint that is was previously available only to bulk data customers as well as all the benefits of the fused data also previously just available for bulk customers. What that means is not only will customers be able to mine the data in an expanded set of counties, they’ll also get more accurate and complete data in those expanded counties as well as counties already included in the coverage footprint.
We realize that the data delivered through this platform is not an end in itself but rather a means to and end for the small businesses and entrepreneurs using it. Those customers are feeding the data into their decision-making stream to help them make better and more profitable decisions about their businesses. The better the data, the better the decisions those customers will be able to make.
And we believe making a do-it-yourself data-mining tool allowing the millions of small businesses and entrepreneurs across the nation to build their own marketing lists will spark a true and lasting property data reformation.