Thursday, September 13, 2007

Did you know that the building we're taking this class in used to house a brothel? I came across this interesting little fact today, from some of my other classmates. I was considering the implications, and it got me to thinking. There's some strange artifacts on the apartment door where I live--what's that all about? Then there's a house in my parents' neighborhood that was raided for a big drug operation, or so "they" say. I wonder if the people who live there now know about the night the helicopters showed up. This leads me to my concept for an online service.

If you look into figuring out a building history right now, there are a few resources for you online. On "WikiHow" they point you to a few basic steps: inspecting building materials, going to the local library and deed office, things of that nature. Search on building history in general, and you'll find a lot of local listings for places that expect you to drive out and engage in physical research. Clearly, it's time for some consolidation.

There's a website called "Where's George?" that's based on the US serial numbers of dollar bills--someone registers them, and lists the site on the bill before spending it. The next curious person who picks up the bill might go online and list the location and new facts about the bill--a tear, in what shop it was received as change, that sort of thing. What I envision is a similar service from houses that draws on the power of the web to track features of addresses: relevant news reports, building information, change of residence, anything that can be listed. Then, take it one step further and allow specific reporting, perhaps with a verification of address step to keep total chaos from ruling but generally relying on a Wikipedia style of information buildup. Eventually, this could become the Facebook for houses: profile pictures, a list of murders, arrests, and bad breakups that happened right here on this spot, strange rumors and unsolved mysteries--and that leaky faucet on the third floor that no one's been able to fix. Perhaps a crossover with GoogleMaps satellite imaging features could link these profiles to the current state of events. Local legends and ghost sightings would be right next to the information someone looking into house ownership, or even apartment rental, is most curious to know.

And, of course, life changing information like the fact our classroom was once a house of ill repute. I checked, by the way, that URL isn't even taken.


Laura said...

This is a really cool idea, especially including the ghosts and other legends relevant to a given address. What would be *really* useful to a prospective buyer, though, is being able to type in an address and seeing what alterations, improvements, renovations, etc., the house has undergone since its construction. For example, a beautiful stone floor was installed by the second owner of the house; a new heat pump was installed within the past five years, and the third owner installed a new roof.

I don't know how realistic this is. If nothing has ever gone wrong with the house, these improvements would be excellent selling points. But what if that beautiful stone floor was installed over asbestos tile? What if that new heat pump has been repaired numerous times during the last five years? What if that new roof has a history of leaking? Who's going to report that?

It would be nice to know about all the improvements to a particular address, but how honest would people actually be...if they bother to log the improvements at all? As useful as this would be theoretically, I don't think it would ever happen. It's a nice thought, though.

RR said...

Actually, I think public records and news accounts would make a great starting place. I like the idea of bringing this all together. I was trying to get rental insurance this summer (via an online app) and was suddenly asked how old the building I was in was. I had no idea (still don't - went with another company), but it's the sort of thing I SHOULD be able to easily discover online.

Anastasia said...

I was thinking that public records would be a pretty strong starting source. Of course, there would be more loyal reporting of positive improvements than of parts of a house falling apart, but frankly I'm more interested in the social aspect and the understanding of a place's history than in knowledge for a buyer--that's more of a legal matter for formal knowledge gathering.