Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cool (Evil) Tool: Property Shark

There's no denying it: Real estate is a national obsession.

Those who own a piece of the pie either sit smugly on their equity or lay awake at night convinced that the bottom is about to fall out. Those who've been locked out by spiraling prices alternate between despair over the seeming impossibility of owning their own home and "I-told-you-so" glee as prices in some areas start to slip.

How much the neighbors are asking for their home -- and how much they actually get for it -- is discussed openly (quel horreur!) at dinner parties and soccer matches, while the home-sales log in the Sunday paper is grabbed and consumed before the coffee has even finished percolating.

For those of us who like to indulge our real estate OCD online, too, there are a bevy of sites that dish up the dirt on home prices. The snark-meisters at Curbed offer biting commentary on the real estate markets in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. Zillow -- and its questionable "Zestimates" of home values -- made big waves when it launched a couple of years ago. And now comes Property Shark.

From California to Massachusetts, nosy neighbors can punch in just about any address to get a complete dossier on a home (up to six reports a day are free; after that, you have to pay). The info includes the last sale price (and the sale price before that), the name of the owner, the amount of their mortgage, estimated current value, the relative quality of the home's construction, building permits on file, code violations, and maybe even a snapshot or two -- plus stats on recent "comparable" sales and neighborhood demographics.

All of these things are a matter of public record, of course -- but it would take a pathological level of inquisitiveness to actually go downtown to look them up. Thanks to Property Shark, the dope on your coworkers', friends', and neighbors' homes is available with a click of the mouse. It's enough to make even veteran snoopers feel downright dirty.

Now, um, what did you say your address was again?

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