HomeZilla Enters the Toronto Real Estate Site Fray

HomeZilla launched yesterday. It's the latest real estate site to unveil itself in recent months, following in the footsteps of Zoocasa and the re-branding disaster that is Realtor.ca.

The brainchild of Cabbagetown resident Sandy Ward, the site has been in development for the last seven months. The look is slick - everything is delivered through a map interface. This makes it easy to use, but at the same time a bit limiting. Most of the data is served up in bite sized capsules within a Google maps bubble.

Earlier today, I peppered Sandy with some questions about the site. Our short Q&A follows:

Can you describe for me in a nutshell what HomeZilla is and who you're trying to reach?

HomeZilla is a one-stop shop for Canadian home buyers trying to find neighbourhood information. We are trying to reach home buyers and real estate agents who want to save time looking for neighbourhood amenities and information.

Do you have coverage all over Canada? Or just in certain cities?

HomeZilla's goal is to have information for all of Canada. Currently, we have different levels of detail for each city and town. The goal is to increase our coverage every day especially with non-commercial places like schools, parks, fire stations, etc because this is data that, until now, hasn't been collected on a national, or even provincial level.

Our team just started working on a way to stamp a particular set of data as HomeZilla approved so users know the data is comprehensive. Currently, our collection of Canadian schools (11,000+ nationwide) is fantastic but our collection of pubs isn't great. We need a way to communicate this to our users.

Will the stamp of approval mean that the data is accurate OR that you recommend the place?

The stamp would mean we believe the data is accurate and comprehensive. For recommendations, we would problaby use other sources.

Does that mean you have concerns that some of the current data may not be accurate?

We look at our data two ways. First we look at data comprehensiveness. And second we look at data accuracy.

For Canadian schools, we have a comprehensive list which includes 99% of the schools in Canada. But just yesterday, we found out that one of our Nova Scotia schools was geocoded incorrectly hence reducing the accuracy. Overall, the data we present is comprehensive and accurate but there is always room for improvement.

Right. I was looking in Cabbagetown where you live and under cafes was only able to find some Starbucks and Tim Hortons and not Jet Fuel, the local favourite. Do you anticipate adding more local places at a later date?

Jet Fuel's absence has come up a few times in the last days. Popular place. Yes, we will be adding more local places both by collecting it ourselves but also by partnering with other companies who have access to small, more neighbourhoody businesses. We also have a user contribution section coming so people can easily add data to HomeZilla.

What would you say HomeZilla is doing different than the recently launched Zoocasa?

Zoocasa, which I like, is positioning themselves as a real estate search engine. Their site focuses mostly on home listings. HomeZilla's focus is to make it faster and easier for home buyers to research the area around that home. Home buyers might find a listing on Zoocasa but would then come to HomeZilla to see if the neighbourhood is right for them.

Both companies are trying to make the home buying experience faster and easier. HomeZilla has chosen to start by trying to make it easy for home buyers, and real estate agents, to quickly find the answers to questions like: where are the closest schools? how much do people in the neighbourhood make? how far is the subway?

In my Q&A with Jay Lewin of Zoocasa, he characterized the site a bit differently. He wrote: We are looking at bringing in all the things that home buyers consider when looking for a place to live (neighbourhood info, comparable properties, school data, points of interest...) to one place taking advantage of all the great web tools available. The goal is to make this enormous, emotional decision easier. Based on this, would you say the two sites are more likely to be competitors?

For the time being, we are in Coopetition. HomeZilla and Zoocasa are fundamentally changing the housing market. In these early days, I think, it is better to both compete and cooperate. Long term, well, ya we will probably compete head-on but I will still invite Jay Lewin to go wine tasting with me.

Sounds like fun....Do you plan to add real estate listings at some point?

Real estate listings will come to HomeZilla, it is inevitable. Right now we are focused on releasing information that home buyers had a hard time finding. Zoocasa has been deeply criticized for the staleness of their listings and are walking a thin line with CREA (see Housing123.com and RealEstatePlus.ca). Zoocasa has an army of lawyers and money to take on the real estate industry.

As a startup, HomeZilla has to avoid legal fights because they cost too much. In 2009, I am sure HomeZilla will have some listings.

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