HouseNovel Looks to Crowdsource Home History
After David Decker’s mom lost her home to foreclosure a decade ago, he and his wife, Amanda Zielike, couldn’t stop thinking about all the memories left behind when the building was subsequently razed. During a visit with Decker’s mom in the early days of Covid, they looked at old photos and heard stories about all the renovations in the home over the years.
“We knew at that time we wanted to figure out a way we could aggregate not only data points but also personal stories,” says Zielike. The two envisioned a digital hub for “untold stories and old photos collecting dust in storage boxes somewhere,” she says.
In February, the idea came to fruition in the form of HouseNovel.com, a website that Zielike describes as one part Zillow and one part Ancestry.com. It essentially operates as a social media platform where users upload historical photos, personal anecdotes, construction dates, and other details about residential properties. It’s designed to show how properties have changed over the years. The site is free to use, but the two aim to generate revenue through a subscription-based advertising model. Advertisers pay a monthly fee starting at $349.
“Our homes have such long lives, and we’re just a short portion of it. We wanted to make sure that everybody could collaborate on this, and the system we built allows that.”
“We’re going after real estate professionals who care about home history, whether that’s real estate agents, architects, general contractors, or any other people in the real estate trade that focus on older homes,” Decker says. “We feel there’s a huge market for that and for those sorts of services.”
The couple worked with Square 1 Group, a California-based web developer focused on real estate websites. In addition to crowdsourced material, HouseNovel is sharing its platform with any interested local historical groups to supplement property information and partner on special projects; the company has already landed a partnership with Edina’s Heritage Preservation Commission and St. Paul-based historic preservation nonprofit Rethos.
As of August, Zielike says there have been more than 18,000 home profile records uploaded to the site, about 10,000 of those in Minnesota. For now, HouseNovel is focusing on residential properties, but eventually it aims to open it up more broadly to commercial real estate.
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Both Zielike and Decker come from a commercial real estate background. Before launching HouseNovel, Zielike worked in marketing for commercial real estate firms JLL and Colliers, and she operated her own consulting firm. Decker held corporate real estate roles with insurance giant UnitedHealth Group; he’s still working full time at Minneapolis-based insurance startup Bright Health Group. Zielike, meanwhile, is dedicating all her time to HouseNovel.
The two are hopeful that the site becomes a “go-to resource for home history research in the nation,” Zielike says.
Adds Decker: “Our homes have such long lives, and we’re just a short portion of it. We wanted to make sure that everybody could collaborate on this, and the system we built allows that.”