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Why I Founded Realm

Because once I started investing in real estate, I thought it was crazy that homeowners didn’t have access to the same information as investors.

I’ve always liked real estate. Growing up, we rented a home in central NJ, but when I turned 6 my parents had saved up enough to become homeowners. We had to move further away from New York City, but my dad never complained once about the 2 hour (each way) commute he had for 20+ years.

So many of my memories revolve around our South Jersey home where my parents live to this day. Getting to pick the paint color for the computer room. Partially finishing the basement so I had somewhere to dance to TLC and have sleepovers. Redoing my room on a $1,600 budget, which I planned down to the cent to self-install hardwood floors, apply fresh paint, and upgrade to a double bed.

Liz and her sister in front of their childhood home in South Jersey

Our home was not only at the center of most of my memories, but was also at the center of my parent’s finances. They taught me that credit cards often aren’t the best way to borrow money and that you can get better rates with a home equity loan. They agonized over renovating the dark kitchen that was trendy in 1998, but not part of the dreamy modern kitchens that became popular a few years ago. They loved to speculate on our home’s value when a neighbor’s house sold—“We have a better lot, but they built that two-level deck. Maybe they’re worth the same? Should we build a deck?”

My personal real estate adventure accelerated when I started working at Reonomy, a real estate tech company helping commercial investors better understand big properties. As I learned more through my day job, I started to invest some of my personal savings into commercial properties across the country. Along with my husband and a few friends, we’ve purchased 34 properties since 2016. We’d buy one property, improve it, refinance it, and pull money out to buy the next. After 3 years, we’ve turned a few hundred thousand dollars into a portfolio worth millions. But we’ve always relied on an information advantage—a tip from a professional or a local data point that made us confident that each property would be a good investment.

Liz onsite at a manufactured housing factory in California

With each additional investment I made, I kept asking myself: “Why doesn’t every American homeowner have access to the same information as a real estate investor, a commercial real estate developer, or a seasoned house flipper?” The average American homeowner has 62% of their assets tied up in their property, yet there is no resource to help treat a home as an asset. 

After obsessing over this question for 3 years, I became so convicted that Realm should exist that I decided to build it myself. 

Day 1 at the first Realm office

I founded Realm in 2019 to give homeowners access to data and insights to help them take advantage of their property’s full potential. After 14 months of hard work and a little luck along the way, I’m thrilled to announce Realm is now available to 63M single-family homes across all 50 states.

This is just the beginning. Our team is hard at work expanding coverage to additional geographies and building new data sets to make our insights and advice even more personalized to you and your home. 

Create an account to view your property analysis today.

Chelsea & Shamus: Evaluating options to add space

Meet Chelsea & Shamus – Parents, designers, and ten-year homeowners

Goal: Weigh the pros & cons of adding space to their current home or buying a new home

The beauty of Realm is that we feel like we have an advisor we can trust

Chelsea & Shamus have lived in her current home in the Arts District of Charlotte, NC for ten years. They have loved raising their three children in this two-bedroom, one-bathroom home.

A couple years ago, they underwent renovation on their bathroom and kitchen. Chelsea was pregnant at the time, so the goal was to make the project as easy and quick as possible. Unfortunately, they ran into a few issues during the renovation. They didn’t know if the contractor was licensed and were unaware of how to evaluate different quotes, leading to a stressful and time-consuming process. 

With their kids growing up and their house starting to feel too small, Chelsea & Shamus had to make a decision — should they look for a new home and move, or add more space their current home?

To Stay or To Go?

They had a lot to consider when making the decision. They love their neighborhood and its community, but also needed to weight the financial pros and cons. They happy to discover Realm, which they felt was the perfect guide to help steer them in the right direction.

After watching several neighbors recently renovate their homes, Chelsea saw limitless options of how they could go about adding space. Realm analyzed 3 paths for her: a 1st floor addition, 2nd floor addition, and an attic conversion.

Keeping local zoning rules in mind, Realm’s analysis laid out the square footage allowed under each option as well the cost & home value impact. Realm’s report helped to clarify things for the couple. Chelsea said, “Realm took the emotion out of it and helped me to look at everything logically. They gave us more concrete answers of what our options were and how much we would have to put into it.” 

With Realm’s help, Chelsea & Shamus came to the conclusion turning this home into their dream home was a better option than trying to go out and find a new home, especially given the current state of the housing market.

Realm also helped to prepare the couple to take the next steps on getting started, with recommendations on local vendors who have completed similar projects nearby and advice on how to interview and vet these vendors for her project.

“Realm has actually provided us with scripts of what to say to contractors so we don’t come off as naive” 

Ultimately, Realm provided Chelsea & Shamus with the data & advice they needed to feel confident getting started. As a next step, they are working to source bids from contractors on the attic conversion and secure financing for the project.

Renovate or Wait?

How to weigh high material prices against low interest rates

Overall, our analysis concludes that while remodeling is more expensive now than it was last year, trying to time a home project for both low interest rates and low materials may not be worth the wait or risk. Even a 1% increase in interest rates offsets the savings from waiting for materials prices to drop.

Demand for residential remodeling is reaching all-time highs thanks to a confluence of factors, including a red-hot housing market and a shift towards remote work that has encouraged many Americans to invest in improving their homes.

However, this surge in demand, plus supply-chain related issues due to COVID-19, have also pushed the cost to remodel higher over the past year. Materials and supplies, from steel to appliances have experienced eye-popping price increases. Lumber — a vital material for most construction projects — peaked in April 2021 with a 250% year over year increase!

The headlines about price increases are concerning, and they’ve left many homeowners wondering whether now is the right time to pursue remodeling projects. To add to the confusion, interest rates remain at near record lows. The rates for financing a large remodel project like a home addition, kitchen remodel or ADU/guest house have never been more attractive. With all these trends at play, how should you proceed?

Realm’s Analysis

Realm has crunched the numbers to help homeowners make sense of these two major trends —high materials prices and low financing rates — to help you make an informed decision about your remodeling projects.

Example: $150,000 Home Addition

Let’s dive into the numbers by analyzing a $150,000 home addition project that’s financed with one of the most common loan types for remodeling projects: a 10 year home equity line of credit (HELOC).

  • For this project, the materials overpayment for pursuing the project now with high materials costs is $13,500.
  • However, if the homeowner waits for prices to come down but interest rates rise 1%, the total cost of the project (including interest payments) rises $8,676.68.
  • That results in a net savings of only $4,824 if the homeowner waits for prices to drop while rates increase.
  • For many homeowners, that small of a savings may not be enough to delay a project that will greatly improve livability of their property.
Project Size$150,000
Share of Costs that are Materials60%
Share of Costs that are Labor40%
Materials Cost – Pre Covid$90,000
Materials Cost – May 2021 (+15%)$103,500
Covid Materials Overpayment$13,500
Current Rates – 10 Year HELOC4%
Total Interest Payments – Current Rates$32,241.25
Total Interest Payments – Rates +1%$40,917.93
Total Interest Payments – Rates +2%$49,836.00
What you’re paying extra for materials now$13,500.00
What you pay extra over 10 years if rates go up 1%$8,676.68
What you pay extra over 10 years if rates go up 2%$17,594.75

Large remodeling projects are always a major investment, which is why Realm equips homeowners with data and insights you need to make smarter home investment decisions. In many cases, Realm still recommends pursuing renovation projects now to take advantage of low financing rates. That’s especially true if the project will add value to your property, generate rental income, or significantly improve the enjoyment of your property. 

To get started, look up your property on Realm for our renovation cost & ROI analysis in your area.

Find Zip Codes with Potential

The average single-family home has $175,000 of untapped potential value, but not all zip codes are created equal. Untapped potential varies based on how optimized the homes in each zip code. Homes in zip codes with lots of untapped potential tend to:

  1. Have larger lots relative to current home size with less restrictive zoning regulations
  2. Be older, less recently renovated homes
  3. Have fewer amenities

These 3 zip codes are at the top of the list:

  1. Emerald Hills, CA (94062): The average home has $1,115,273 of untapped potential value
  2. Westport, CT (06880): The average home has $1,078,182 of untapped potential value
  3. Westlake, MD (20817): The average home has $937,757 of untapped potential value

Want to know how zip codes in your area compare? Filter the table below by county or search for specific zips to find out.