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Could HouseFix become the CarFax of homes? Controversial idea

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HouseFix launches to mixed reviews

As illustrated above, HouseFix.com aims to bring social recommendations to the home repair industry, giving homeowners a place to opine with known social connections about contractors in context rather than blindly reading strangers’ recommendations of repair professionals. The service also seeks to give contractors a way to have a stronger web presence, but more importantly, scores them based on user input and gives them a tracking mechanism for their projects.

HouseFix.com recently launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield and immediately the challenge of competitors became clear to the online audience. What about ServiceMagic? What about Angie’s List? The questions of “what about” flew in the face of the project, but HouseFix has continued to respond by noting the differences, mostly surrounding social recommendations adding desperately needed trust to the transaction and adding context. In recent history, web users have flocked to peers for recommendation and trust their opinion over any other, even that of a professional. There is an inherent obligation to make good recommendations to friends so as not to hear, “but you told me they were good, they blew up my house!”

The founders formed the company out of frustration with their own process of buying a home and seeking contractors, a business history some point to as a poor foundation for a startup, given that they have no experience in the field. It is our belief that companies born out of frustration are often fueled by passion which can, in some cases, give a company energy to survive that a typical small business does not have. The service is currently free, but a freemium model has been mentioned; we suspect contractors would foot the bill rather than users.

What no one has figured out about HouseFix

HouseFix is not unique in their recommendation idea, but what is unique is the tracking mechanism for home repairs. If HouseFix were to be acquired by a Zillow or a Realtor.com for their repair tracking mechanism, homes could theoretically have a CarFax repair history attached to their home, viewable before a purchase.

This concept would most likely be adopted by a more controversial company like Zillow and Trulia which have home value estimates that can be influenced by a homeowner’s input of updates, repairs, renovations and the like. If a major company with the bulk of existing addresses were to add an element of home repair history in an attempt to provide the public with a CarFax-like option, not only would the concept be extremely disruptive (which always means a wave of press), but would add transparency to any transaction. It would be complicated, full of legal liabilities, and a hairy mess for the real estate industry, but one that is possible if HouseFix was acquired by Zillow (or Trulia, Realtor.com, Homes.com or others).

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51 Comments

51 Comments

  1. Joe Loomer

    September 19, 2011 at 7:32 am

    "full of legal liabilities" indeed…. It did strike me, however, that someone who wasn't looking to start a social media referral site for real estate contracting could start a site that does exactly what you mentioned. It would be a reach to dig far enough in MLS records to get disclosures from previous sales, or work permits from county recording offices, but not impossible. Easier in some states than others, I assume.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  2. Sheila Rasak

    September 19, 2011 at 10:53 am

    While I like the idea of transparency, it's a scary idea in terms of determining a home value. So many more important factors are evident when doing an accurate CMA that a history of home repair could be irrelevant because of improvements rather than the buyer visualizing a laundry list as repair bills.

    If Realtor.com or Zillow is courting this company, this is a recipe for disaster as these websites are based on the owner's inflated sense of value and the numbers will continue to be skewed.

    • Lani Rosales

      September 19, 2011 at 11:39 am

      Sheila, it is pure speculation on my end that anyone would even think about looking to acquire the company, to be clear, they probably didn't even know who/what HouseFix was before today, it literally just launched.

      I actually think that adding more layers of transparency increases the need for a Realtor- the more info a person has, the more translation is needed for all of the data. Win-win.

  3. jim fay

    September 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Let the buyer beware or keep the buyer blind? A double-edged sword indeed. Is it more beneficial to tell a prospective buyer of all the IMPROVEMENTS made to a property or sell it "as is" with no indications made?
    You can say that a house has a new roof but should you say why? Perhaps the old roof was blown off in a gas explosion. To whom do we owe the truth?

  4. jim fay

    September 19, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Let the buyer beware or keep the buyer blind? A double-edged sword indeed. Is it more beneficial to tell a prospective buyer of all the IMPROVEMENTS made to a property or sell it "as is" with no indications made?
    You can say that a house has a new roof but should you say why? Perhaps the old roof was blown off in a gas explosion. To whom do we owe the truth?

  5. Jason fox

    September 19, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Another peer review site to keep track of. I suppose they could have a chance as they are basing the model on a niche of "home" contractors. Excuse me Mr and Mrs Client, if you liked my service could you please visit these 10 websites and write a posituve review for me….Ugh.

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Opinion Editorials

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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Opinion Editorials

Easy ways to help an unhappy customer

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all had to deal with an unhappy client or two, and maybe some situations didn’t play out too well. Here are some simple tips that will help.

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unhappy client

Who here hasn’t had a client get aggravated for what seems like no good reason?

(Raise your hand!)

Who here hasn’t had that awkward “I hear what you’re saying, but…” conversation?

(More hands!)

Whether you’re providing marketing work, strategic planning services, graphic design ideas, or basic business advice, you’re going to run into the occasional client who Just. Is. Not. Here. For. It. And it can be so hard to help that unhappy client get back to a place where you can all come together to get the job done.

(Hands! Hands! Hands!)

Especially in this day and age of angry emoji reaction clicks, dealing with confrontational feedback can require a new level of diplomacy and tact. You’ve got an unhappy client who doesn’t have the ability to communicate their “why” to you, so instead, they go nuclear and your inbox is suddenly filled with the kind of unhappy vitriol you’re more used to seeing in your Facebook feed.

How do you handle it?

Because… you can actually handle it.

First and foremost, understand where the negative reaction is coming from. They’ve asked you for help with their cherished project. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy with anyone’s work. Maybe they can’t quite communicate what they want. Regardless of where the sticking point is, understand that the sticking point is (a) not your fault and (b) not going to be acknowledged by them.

So then, the second step… remove yourself from the criticism. Even if they make it personal, remove yourself from the situation. Look at it in terms of the work. The client wants X. You feel you have given them X, but they see it as Y. Can you see it from their perspective? Because if you can, you are way more than halfway there. Where are they coming from?

If this is an external review, on Google or such, just ignore it and move on. It’s done. You can’t argue it. But if it’s feedback you’re getting from a current client and your project is still in play… seriously, take a deep breath and give it a harder look. It might feel personal. But is it?

The best assumption to make is that there is something else going on. If you can keep your cool and work with your unhappy client to determine what’s making them uncomfortable, in a non-confrontational way, and to get them to an acceptable delivery — you’ve won. Because you’re continuing to provide them the service they’ve come to you for.

So take a look at the situation, and figure out the best response.

1. Is the argument clear?
Don’t waste your time trying to establish whether you’re right or they’re wrong. Instead, look at framing it in terms of what the client is trying to accomplish. Ask them to give you specific examples of what they hope to achieve. Allow them to tell you what they feel isn’t good… in fact, encourage them to tell you why they’re unhappy with what you’ve given them. All of this will help frame what they’re looking for and what you need to give them in round two.

2. Is their feedback relevant?
Well, yeah. There are times when you know that your client knows nothing. But they feel the need to demonstrate that They Know What They Are Doing.

Let them.

Just let them tell you, and let it go.

And… keep searching for that nugget of truth in what they’re saying. Their feedback may seem ridiculous. But what’s at the heart of it? Look for that. Look at this negative reaction as a signpost for what they’re truly after.

3. IS IT WORTH DEBATING?
This fits right in with number 2. They feel passionately that you need two spaces after every period. Is this something you really need to argue? CHOOSE. YOUR. BATTLES.

If your client really wants to engage on an issue … two spaces, or the use of a particular phrase … then let them say their piece. Then say your piece. But giving them room for an out. And once again, think about it from their perspective.

Maybe it’s someone who didn’t spend all their time in their first post-college job debating the niceties of the Oxford comma. Does it ultimately matter to the overall success of the project? If it does… go to the mat. Show them, with respect, why it’s important. But if it’s just a point of pride for you, the provider? Can you let it go?

I can’t sometimes. So I get it if you can’t. But still, it’s a good point to keep in mind. A good question to ask yourself, as a provider of a service. Which sword do you fall on… and why?

Clearly, you shouldn’t just roll over because a client has turned nasty. But neither should you turn every unhappy client response into your personal cause du jour. When you encounter negative, hostile client reactions, take a moment. Try to see it from their point of view. At the very least, the shift in perspective will help you handle their concerns. And at best, you’ll re-frame the discussion in a way that gives you both a handle on how to move forward.

You might learn from the exchange. Or maybe you’re just right, dammit. But you still have to think about what’s worth getting worked up over.

Finally, don’t let it bring you down. If it’s serious enough that you have to part ways over their reaction, help them do so amicably. Point them in the direction of someone you think might be able to accommodate their ideas. Stay positive for them, and for yourself. Then chalk it up to experience, and take the lessons on to the next client.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in 2020, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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