The housing world was famously slow to embrace technology when that thing that used to be called the World Wide Web — or worse, the information superhighway — appeared a couple of decades ago, but it finally got the message. It seems to be on an app-a-day binge, but some tech is showing up in other ways in the housing world.
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Real estate agent takes off
Douglas Trudeau, drone home. A man in Tucson, Ariz., recently became the first real estate agent granted permission to use drones legally to photograph properties. "Legally" is a significant word here, as numerous agents around the country have been known in the past year or so to adapt the unmanned aircraft for overhead shots of homes. The Federal Aviation Administration, which has publicly taken a dim view of the commercial use of drones, nonetheless recently granted about a dozen requests for legal permission to fly them, including real estate agent Douglas Trudeau's. He told the Arizona Daily Star that most aerial photography of homes in real estate heretofore has been of properties priced in the millions of dollars, but he plans to use it for houses that cost $175,000 to $400,000. There's a catch: The FAA will require him to get a pilot's license, pass a medical exam and undergo specific training and testing, the newspaper reported.
Closing the digital divide
Google is arranging to provide its Google Fiber high-speed Internet service to 4,300 public-housing residents in Austin, Texas for free, for 10 years. The freebie (regular subscribers pay a monthly fee) is part of a broader outreach effort to get more Austin residents online; a local community college is donating hundreds of computers to the residents. Austin is one of three cities with access to the superfast Google Fiber service; the company had been criticized for lack of access to it in the cities' lower-income neighborhoods.
But back to the apps and other digital news.
A real estate agent in Melbourne, Australia is getting a lot of attention over a free mobile app he recently developed in collaboration with a local university that claims to predict within 5 percent, on average, how much a house will sell for. Known as RealAs, it uses an algorithm developed at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (popularly known as RMIT University) to predict prices at auction, which is a common home sale method in Australia. The company (Realas.com recently won an Australian tech-innovation competition and a $40,000 prize. RealAs makes money from advertising, and claims it will break even on its $500,000 investment by August, one year after it was founded. Currently, the app is geared toward Australian prices only, but CEO Josh Rowe told the Sun-Herald newspaper in Australia he hopes to expand internationally.
Violent crimes committed against real estate agents on the job in the past several months have sparked a flurry of industry interest in safety training programs and security practices. An existing mobile app, Homesnap Pro, recently upgraded its features to include a safety timer that will alert an agent's emergency contacts if the agent doesn't cancel it within a specified time. It also includes a one-tap "distress alert" button that tells the agent's contacts that the agent is in imminent danger.