In the United States it’s easy to learn the approximate value of your home. Just log on to Zillow.com, type in your address, snap your fingers, and there it is – an instantaneous valuation of your home. Zillow has valuations for about 70 million homes. It calls its instant valuations ‘Zestimates’ and crunches its data with a range of publicly available information, including sales of comparable houses in a neighbourhood. Zillow is able to provide ‘Zestimates’ because in many U.S. States information on the transfer prices of real estate is readily available and accessible by the general public and is not exclusively held in proprietary databases.
Unfortunately, it’s not the same in Canada. Not only are Canadian real estate statistics fragmented but the data is not freely available – in fact its expensive and difficult to obtain. For instance, Teranet, the sole provider of access to Ontario’s land registry database, charges about $40 for a single ‘Zestimate’ type search.
In an article in the Seattle Times, Rich Barton, founder and chief executive of Zillow.com said he’d like to replicate Zillow’s offerings in Canada although stresses the challenges of obtaining Canadian home data.
Fundamentally there is a difference between how the Canadian and US governments treat public data. Data created by the US government is, quite literally, the people’s data. In the US the country’s organizing philosophy empowers citizens to stand up and say – this is our data. Just yesterday, Wired Magazine reported that a California County was forced to pay $500,000 in legal costs to a nonprofit group for failing to provide them with public mapping data. The county had tried to charge the nonprofit group $250,000 for the data and then appealed to the federal government to designate the data a national security secret that couldn’t be released.
Its unfortunate that Canada has yet to embrace openness of information in the same way as the United States. It seems unfair that individuals paying the bill for government information, aka the taxpayer, aren’t provided easy access to all this information. Ultimately, Canadians will most probably be granted free and instantaneous home valuations over the internet when services like Zillow finally arrive – there’s just a bit of a delay.
Let us know your thoughts on the topic as I’m sure opinions vary and the above is just mine.