Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
When Jack Huntress was hunting for his first home in 2008, he had seen about a dozen listings when one selling tool stopped him in his tracks. It was something he hadn’t seen at the other open houses he’d already attended, and it helped sway his decision to choose that home.
What wowed him was an 8-inch-tall collection of paperwork. No, it wasn’t a pile of blank closing documents. The sellers had put together a binder full of information about everything they’d done to the house, from paint colors used in each room to a list of their favorite local contractors to warranty information about the home’s appliances.
“It wasn’t the sole reason we bought the house, but it definitely factored in and made me very comfortable with the buying process,” Huntress said. After that experience, he wondered if it would be possible to replicate his experience on a grander scale. And that’s how HomeBinder was born. Huntress created a cloud-based platform to store online the kind of property information he found so helpful in that binder.
The truly innovative part of HomeBinder comes when it’s time to sell. Instead of sliding a physical binder across the kitchen table, sellers can easily hand over this wealth of information to the next owner with one click. The new buyers are then able to record their own fixes and maintenance, and thus continue writing the history of the property — and its upgrades.
From his experience, Huntress knows buyers are excited that “they’re getting the operational manual for the home.” But he also notes that it’s comforting to sellers who might be having trouble parting with the house: “It’s been their baby, and they want the next person to care for it too.”
Huntress says that the simple online wizard that home owners use to create the initial HomeBinder takes only around 15 to 20 minutes to fill out. The service includes periodic e-mail reminders about the specific seasonal maintenance needs for the home, as well as alerts about when home owners might want to factor replacement costs on high-ticket items into their budgets. Huntress also noted they’re seeing a lot of consumers coming to HomeBinder searching for a way to inventory their belongings for insurance reasons. The basic service is free, but for $49 per year, users can upload images of their home improvement projects, generate tax reports, and create materials that will help market the home when it is for sale. The premium version also includes a recall alert list, wherein HomeBinder pings the federal database cataloging unsafe, hazardous, or defective products, and informs HomeBinder users if their appliances have been recalled.
While home buyers and sellers are finding many reasons to fill their HomeBinders with helpful information, Huntress says real estate professionals benefit from the service as well. The maintenance reminders sent out by HomeBinder can easily be branded with a brokerage or salesperson’s information.
“[Real estate professionals generally] maintain a relationship for a period of time after the transaction, but it tends to ebb,” Huntress says. For users, “this continues to be a gentle reminder that their agent cares.”
Huntress says that their main mission is to empower home owners. They want to decrease the perceived burdens of home ownership, and in the process, promote home buying as a safe investment.
“Home ownership is something that is very difficult to do. People have fewer skills and homes are becoming more complicated,” Huntress says. But having a detailed history and a full list of professional helpers only a click away “makes homeownership a little easier.”