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Are you selling real estate?
Chances are, one day soon, you may find yourself featured on a Web site with information about a home or condo that you have bought. The information will go beyond the particulars on what you paid for the place, the square footage and the number of bathrooms, and will include whom you bought the property with, where you went to school and where you work. The story will also include a link to a Google map that shows the exact location and street view of your new home. A link will guide readers to other information about you and perhaps a photo or two.
The site is called “Blockshopper.” It is a site that unabashedly uses personal information — all of it legally obtained — to make a buck.
A teacher at Mercer Island High School found herself featured on the Web site with details about the size, location and price of a home that she just recently bought in Seattle. The piece also contained information about her background, her position at the high school and other information nearly verbatim from a story published last fall by the Reporter. The story provides a link with a map to the teacher’s property and a link to the Reporter story.
Her mother and friends called her to say they had seen it, she said. It made her uncomfortable. Her mother was alarmed. The teacher asked not to be named in this story.
Founded in 2006, Blockshopper is a local news and market data service for current and aspiring homeowners, buyers, sellers and real estate professionals. Its model is to humanize the home-buying process, linking a real person to the home or neighborhood being considered.
On its Web site, the philosophy of Blockshopper is summed up in one sentence.
“In short, we’re one part community newspaper, one part ultimate hyper-local real estate research and advertising tool.”
So far, 15 properties or individuals with Mercer Island connections have been featured on the site or e-mailed to individuals on whether or not they have bought a property or are in the process of selling one.
Along with Redfin and Zillow, Blockshopper aims to enter the realm of online real estate by offering a different twist about how to market properties for sale by the addition of personal information about buyers and sellers.
The Blockshopper model is to use data on the transaction or property listed for sale and combine it with information about the people gleaned from the Web or publicly available through county records.
The idea behind the site, according to its founders, is to make local news.
Brian Timpone, 36, of Chicago, is the founder of the site. He calls himself a community journalism guy.
Reached by telephone, Timpone said that real estate is the ultimate local subject matter.
“It is about people and wealth,” he said. “It is what everyone wants to know.”
The public nature of real estate data makes it easy to get the facts. Luckily for Timpone and the small army of freelance writers in his market, information on individuals can be easily found on the Internet. Those sources have “a long tail,” he said.
The Web site has expanded to markets in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle/King County, South Florida/Miami, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.
Timpone said that the site is making money, but referred to the business as a startup.
He said that Blockshopper also provides a valuable service in several areas. Poorer neighborhoods and communities are not well served by real estate companies, he said.
When comparing himself to Zillow, Timpone described Blockshopper as a local, community Web site.
“We are creating stories,” he said. “We are community news.”
When asked if the people who were featured on the site objected, he said that the site has received plenty of complaints. Yet the Web traffic for the sites continues to grow.
The 15 markets on Blockshopper receive roughly 750,000 unique visitors each month.
“Blockshopper is simply taking this public info and making stories out of it. This data is not just for the government, and it’s not up to them to release the information,” Timpone said.
“We can’t trust the government to do this.”