Technology is poised to upend America’s property market

FROM FAR enough away most houses look the same. At cruising altitude over Dallas, Los Angeles and even much of New York, most dwellings are nondescript: beige- or grey-roofed, laid out in neat patterns. In sunnier climes the monotony is punctuated by the bright turquoise oblongs of swimming pools. When it comes to valuing a home, though, the details matter. The site, square footage, number of rooms, the finishing and a thousand other factors determine whether a home is worth $200,000 or $2,000,000.

For this reason real estate has long been a fragmented, local market. There are 2m estate agents in America, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), just over 1% of America’s workforce. An agent does a number of tasks—appraising houses, marketing properties, organising tours—for a handful of transactions each year. An agent might dominate the market in a single neighbourhood—a few streets in Beverly Hills, say. But zoom out to Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs and his market share quickly drops to nearly zero.

Real estate is the biggest asset market in the world. The value of residential property in America—at around $34trn—rivals the market capitalisation of all listed American companies. Throw in commercial and retail property, together worth around $16trn, and its value easily eclipses that of public...

via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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