You paid a premium to live near a rapid transit station. If only you had known that the station was going to be shut down for two or three years for repairs and upgrading.
Or perhaps you realized there was an airport nearby, and even checked out the flight patterns to find out if planes would fly directly overhead. But had you known how darn noisy those jets would be, you might have chosen another house.
Now there’s an app for that. Or there soon will be, promises Steve Kalifowitz, president and head of U.S. Operations for Localize.city. The Tel Aviv-based startup recently opened in New York City, and will expand to up to 10 more cities within the next year.
This column rarely mentions startups, since their futures are so uncertain. But Localize is one of two new companies I learned about recently that seem to have a better chance of survival than most.
The other is Irene, a firm that purchases the homes of seniors with the promise that the sellers can remain there for as long as they desire. The company pays the property taxes, insurance and most operating expenses, allowing seniors to stay in their homes at a much-reduced cost.
Both outfits have raised significant funding from private investors, which is another reason they should make it beyond the beta phase.
Localize began life in 2016 in Israel. It gathers and analyzes “tens of thousands” of data sets, Kalifowitz said in an interview. Its sources include public and commercial databases, plus social media, which it scours for anything people might complain about -- or boast about -- as it relates to housing.
For example, you might enthusiastically buy a house because of the nearby park. But you had no way of knowing the place was an after-school hangout for teenagers, or a favorite spot for drug dealers when the sun goes down. Or maybe the city just doesn’t maintain it very well.
With Localize’s technology, you could find that out ahead of time -- as long as you live in the Big Apple. (Kalifowitz would not reveal where Localize is headed next, so stay turned.)
Consider a family thinking about buying a particular house. They can find out where the schools are, the shopping, the best routes to work and so on. But they can’t know what it’s really like living there until they actually do.
Says the firm’s CEO, Asaf Rubin, “This is the biggest consumer problem the internet has yet to solve.”
In creating its own logarithms, Localize interviewed hundreds of frustrated homebuyers who spoke about mistakes they made because of a lack of information. It analyzed forums and social networks, which are flooded with talk about a wide range of failures in the homebuying process.
The result: an “Insight Engine” that helps people make more informed decisions.
People “choose an apartment for the breathtaking views, without knowing there is already a building permit in the pipeline for a high-rise next door that will block the view completely,” says Kalifowitz. Or they rely on an elevator, only to later learn that it breaks down so often that their fifth-floor apartment is basically a walkup.
“Localize.city’s technology reveals these and many other insights,” says Kalifowitz.
Meanwhile, Irene is taking root as another option for seniors who want to age in place. The company will pay anywhere from 40 to 80 percent of a property’s market value, depending on that value, the life expectancy of the sellers and how much it will cost to maintain the place, according to co-founder Fabrizio Tiso.
The concept is much like a reverse mortgage, except with a reverse loan, seniors still have to pay their own taxes, insurance and maintenance -- and face foreclosure if they don’t. They also have to give up the house if they choose to move out.
With Irene, they don’t relinquish the place until they die. In other words, you keep it for the rest of your life. If you move elsewhere -- say, to your grown child’s house or into an assisted-living facility -- you retain the right to rent the house for extra income. Irene doesn’t take over until you’ve passed.
As with reverse (or home equity-conversion) mortgages, Irene will own the home after you pass. But your heirs can buy back the house if they like.
This kind of relationship is common in Europe, especially in France and Italy, according to Tiso, who is from Milan. There, individual investors -- and sometimes a group of family members -- buy the right to inherit the house when the seller passes away.
“It’s a big innovation for the U.S. market, but it’s definitely not new,” says Tiso. “We see our solution saving tens of thousands of seniors every year across many different European markets.”
A few other details: Irene pays the seller in one lump sum, but monthly payouts are “under consideration,” says the co-founder. Also, the “operating expenses” the company covers are limited: For instance, the company will repair appliances, but won’t replace them -- although that, too, is “under consideration,” Tiso said.
If the company should falter, protections in their contracts allow seniors to remain in their homes. And if the company’s investors fail to make good on that promise, Tiso says seniors will get back the titles to their homes.