Chicago residents: How many suburbs located within an hour of you can you name? What do you know about their schools? Their restaurants? Their crime rates?
Chances are these answers aren’t extensive, or so believes Karla Thomas. Thomas and Tammy Rucker are the co-founders of Homeology, a “community matching” service for people moving to or within the greater Chicago area.
After working as a real estate agent in the city for nine years, Thomas decided to move her family to the suburbs, which she knew little about. “As [I] spent countless hours navigating schools, crime, commute websites in addition to parenting and community forums, [I] was frustrated with lack of coordinated information. I knew there had to be a better way,” she said.
The result: Homeology.
The basic process is as follows: users moving to or within the greater Chicago area fill out an online questionnaire, noting their family background, priorities, non-negotiables, and preferences regarding the community in which they live. (During this stage, users can also speak to a “Living Location Expert.”) They then receive a report listing Chicago communities that meet their criteria.
“We have a set of logic that works for 90-95% of our clients,” said Thomas and Rucker, on the algorithms used to find the right areas. “For those that fall outside of that, we go searching for the information manually and it add to the database. The goal is to get any information the client deems important.”
For users concerned about academic climate, Homeology connects users to parents of school-aged children who live in the top-matched communities to gain a more multi-dimensional understanding of each. Users are also given access to “local concierges” who provide in-person tours and answer more granular questions about a community.
“We have spent nine months discovering and collecting data from all over 20 different sources,” Thomas and Rucker explained. “We have access to state-wide school data, community statistics, pyschographics that give people a good sense of personalities, attitudes and interests of people who live in each community, and commute information for both train and drive commutes.”
When users are ready to make a choice, they’re matched with a real estate broker in the community they select. Homeology then takes a commission once a home is purchased or a rental is finalized.
Shortly after its August launch, Homeology was awarded the top prize of $75,000 at 1871’s Chicago Lean Startup Challenge. “The Lean Startup approach has really given us a methodology that we will use at every step of our growth. We let data and testing drive our decisions and path,” they said.
Thomas and Rucker anticipate their client count (which they currently say is over 80) to swell by spring, when the real estate industry thrives. Should that spike come to fruition, their sights will be set on broadening their regional coverage. “Homeology is a model we know can work in any major metropolitan area. San Francisco and New York are at the top of our expansion targets when that time comes.”