The real estate and housing data source RealtyTrac has always been pretty thorough when it comes to information for the properties listed on its website. You’d see schools, area crime, property history — plenty of fun facts to sort through. But now the company is taking it several steps further with its newest data dump: Each property will also have information about local environmental hazards, sex offenders, meth labs, and surrounding construction — all in one place! No more will you have to go to one site to check on a neighborhood’s sex offenders and another site to look for building permits. RealtyTrac has it all.
RealtyTrac now has 34 data points for each listing, including the de rigeur and the unusual or hard-to-find: foreclosure status, outstanding loans and position, current owner’s name and mailing address, local schools, crime rates, comparable sales and price trends, and very broad information about area unemployment rates and even risk of tornado, earthquake and radon exposure.
Let's give it a try. I'll use my own neighborhood, Cedar Park in West Philadelphia, as a case study.
There's a lovely house on the market on Hazel Avenue, which is in the Penn Alexander catchment, and therefore quite a...catch. If I look at the broker's listing for this house, I get almost nothing. Pfft. Zillow.com, which is pretty popular among househunters, gives me a lengthy price and property-taxes history, as well as details like schools and comps. Other sites would probably add crime data or WalkScores.
RealtyTrac's listing for this house include all the above info but also has much more. The ownership history includes three past owner names and dates of deed transfers. I could get the present owner name through a county website, but it's tougher to get this other information (depending on which county you live in).
RealtyTrac gives me information about building permits issued between 2006 and 2012:
Total Permits: 1 | Total Cost: N/A
Permit # 46XX HAZEL AVE~ALT~R~08/28/08~03/03/09
Description ALTERATION PERMIT, Residential
RealtyTrac has good news about the drug lab situation:
Our current records indicate that this home is not a former drug lab. Our current records indicate that there are no former drug labs within 1 miles of this property.
Terrific, though I sure know stoners in West Philly who may or may not have a grow lamp in a closet somewhere. Maybe.
What really surprised me were the number of environmental hazards: 111 found within 2 miles of this home. Those are defined as storage tanks or spills, and this is certainly information I would not have searched for (nor do I necessarily want to have, as I'm not clear on the implications. Note to self: learn stuff).
The report indicates if a leaking storage tank is in use, active, inactive, has been cleaned up, or if "action" has been "initiated," among other options. It's interesting to note my reactions: While the leaking aboveground storage tank at an ice cream facility made me think of vanilla fudge swirl pouring onto the sidewalk, I was less enthused by the leaking tank at a nearby sausage plant. And what the heck is leaking out of an aboveground storage tank at an energy plant? That can't be good.
The violators may surprise you. One that has a tank with "multiple releases" seems solvent (chemical pun intended) enough to remedy any and environmental problems, what with that high tuition they charge.
Additionally, RealtyTrac reports there are five SuperFund sites and 15 brownfields within 2 miles of this property, but they give the latter a positive spin: "When brownfields are addressed, property values can increase 2-3%." Yippee cayay. Tell it to Al Gore.
Moving right along to sex offenders! As of Oct 2013, there were 379 offenders residing within 2 miles of this house. Click on the link to names and locations, and you'll go to homefacts.com, which is silly and has sentences like: "There are 132 registered sex offenders in Philadelphia, PA. Of the 132 offenders in Philadelphia, PA, 2,339 are viewable on the map..." Better to make a separate stop at the legit site if you're serious about this issue.
The interface also gives nearby foreclosures -- which are a real pain in the butt to find -- and ownership and property information on homes that aren't for sale in the neighborhood. It's all about legwork. It's not that you can't find this on your own, but who wants to?
Final tally? Thumbs up. To have all this information in one place is simply more convenient for the house-hunter who's browsing but not ready to get into a relationship with a realtor. Some of the info comes free, but as with a service like CarFax, the more info you want, the more you're going to pay. There's a free 7-day trial, but that turns into a commitment of $49.95 per month if you don't cancel. Other packages include deeper discounts.
To give it a try: RealtyTrac.com