After David Decker’s mother lost her home to foreclosure ten years ago, he and his wife, Amanda Zielike, couldn’t help but think of all the memories left behind when the building was shaved. During a visit with Decker’s mother at the start of Covid, they looked at old photos and heard stories about all the renovations to the house over the years.
“We knew at the time that we wanted to find a way to aggregate not just data points, but also personal stories,” says Zielike. The two envisioned a digital hub for “untold stories and old photos gathering dust in storage boxes somewhere,” she says.
In February, the idea materialized in the form of a HouseNovel.coma website that Zielike describes as a part Zillow and a part Ancestry.com. It basically functions as a social media platform where users upload historic photos, personal anecdotes, construction dates, and other residential property details. It is designed to show how properties have changed over the years. The site is free, but both aim to generate revenue through a subscription advertising model. Advertisers pay a monthly fee starting at $349.
“Our homes have such a long lifespan, and we are only a small part of it. We wanted to make sure everyone could collaborate on this, and the system we built allows for that.
“We target real estate professionals who care about the story of the home, whether they are real estate agents, architects, general contractors or anyone else in the real estate industry who focuses on older homes,” says Decker. “We think there’s a huge market for this and for these types of services.”
The couple worked with Square 1 Group, a California-based web developer specializing in real estate websites. In addition to crowdsourcing materials, HouseNovel shares its platform with all interested local historical groups to complete property information and partner on special projects; the company has already partnered with the Edina Heritage Preservation Commission and St. Paul-based historic preservation nonprofit Rethos.
In August, Zielike said more than 18,000 home profile records had been uploaded to the site, including about 10,000 in Minnesota. For now, HouseNovel is focused on residential properties, but eventually aims to open it up more broadly to commercial real estate.
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Zielike and Decker both come from commercial real estate backgrounds. Prior to starting HouseNovel, Zielike worked in marketing for commercial real estate companies JLL and Necklaces, and she operated her own consulting firm. Decker has held corporate real estate roles at the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group; he still works full-time at a Minneapolis-based insurance startup Bright Health Group. Zielike, on the other hand, devotes all of her time to HouseNovel.
The two hope the site will become a “go-to resource for family history research in the country,” says Zielike.
Decker adds, “Our homes have such a long lifespan, and we’re just a small part of it. We wanted to make sure everyone could collaborate on this, and the system we built allows for that.