When I heard Localize describe itself as “Netflix but for houses,” I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow (is anyone else exhausted with the X but for Y techie trend, or is it just me?).
That tagline is not just tired, it’s also confused. Judging by its description on producthunt.com, this new NYC-based startup is much more like Carfax-meets-Nextdoor than Netflix.
Localize is a real estate search engine for house hunters. Their claim to fame is how they record complaints about the properties and neighborhoods in their listings, as well as providing details like nearby transportation, construction, crime rates, and demographic stats for the area.
They are currently only operating within New York and Chicago, with plans to expand to other US cities and Canada.
Localize does sound promising – it tries to give users an impression of what it might be like to live somewhere long before they decide to move in. I could see this service encouraging more direct lines of accountability between property managers and potential (or even past) residents. Listing accessibility concerns like elevator functionality within apartment complexes is a great move too, since that can be a make-or-break factor for disabled and aging people.
A few aspects of Localize give me pause, though. For one, it has a strange fixation on emphasizing that they will provide users with “the truth” in their marketing language. Yes, their goal is to improve transparency in the process of searching for housing, but it’s also like they’re trying to imply that their competitors are lying, and that’s a pretty cheap trick.
Huge real estate players like RE/MAX and sites like realtor.com all rely on local Multiple Listing Service (or MLS) information, which comes straight from individual realtors – who are, by the way, legally obligated to disclose “the truth” about their properties.
Plus, there’s something kind of tone deaf about Localize’s model. There are lots of issues with trying to find housing in cities like New York and Chicago: They are expensive and competitive markets, and right now lots of New Yorkers and Chicagoans are housing insecure because of the economic impact of COVID-19.
On their blog, Localize highlights how it conveniently lets users browse detailed listings while staying quarantined.
But I admit that I have serious doubts that this does anything to really address the needs that the majority of their target demographic currently faces. Sure, Localize could help folks find their dream home, but is that really a viable business plan for the present moment? Especially with so many people struggling to just keep a roof over their head?
I’ll give them this: there’s little doubt that Localize’s mission is sincere – plenty of attempts to “disrupt” an industry are. But sincerity and naivety are by no means mutually exclusive.