Tell me what to do

Listings have been the focus of real estate data conversations since the dawn of the Internet. It feels like the time has come for a much bigger data play in this industry – a new focus on the financial impact of buying, selling, borrowing, owning, renovating, or renting.

Real estate has never met its Mint

Nine years ago, a company called Mint opened its doors, changing the world of personal finance forever.

Mint was beautifully crafted online software that wanted to make it easier for people to manage their finances.

For the first time, people could pull data from all of their financial accounts into Mint – banks, stock and mutual fund portfolios, IRAs, 401(k)s, mortgages, credit cards and other loans, and get a grand (and accurate) view of what was going on with their money.

It was shaky new ground. Many were skeptical that people would trust a third party to go into their sensitive financial accounts and retrieve data on a regular basis – that gaining the trust needed to pull this off was nothing more than a pipe dream.

They were wrong.

Today, Mint – which was acquired by Intuit in 2009 – can do a lot more than aggregate data. It connects with more than 16,000 U.S. and Canadian financial institutions and supports more than 17 million individual financial accounts.

Users can set up budgets and goals, pay bills, check credit scores, and get tips for doing better. They can shop for a better credit card, find places to rollover a 401(k), find better car or life insurance, and uncover savings accounts with better interest rates.

Sure, it’s become a lead-gen business model. But remember that prior to Mint, notable technology solutions for personal finance included average online banking experiences, finicky desktop software, telephones, spreadsheets, filing cabinets, and of course, the drive-thru bank.

It’s Mint for real estate

Despite all it’s done for consumer finances, even Mint hasn’t produced anything remarkable around the financial implications of mortgage debt, home equity, or real estate investments.

Within Mint’s platform, mortgage remains a color in a pie chart – one slice of the debt picture. There’s nothing supporting or influencing big financial decisions that involve real estate.

In the last several years, I can’t tell you how many of my friends facing real estate decisions have told me, “I wish someone would tell me what to do because I really don’t know.”

There’s something here.

It feels like a number of factors are in place – data aggregation, consumer comfort and trust in financial apps, smarter predictive engines, stronger real estate markets – that could usher in a revolutionary tool for managing mortgage debt, real estate assets and investments within the larger picture of your financial present and future.

This seems to be where startup Tactile Finance is trying to go. Many others have made attempts at various pieces of the opportunity, too. Planwise, for example, has a tool that sits on your web browser so you can get clearer on which homes you can afford while searching online.

Keep is a company that sends homeowners quarterly financial “statements” on their homes, showing current mortgage balance, interest rate, an equity estimate and recent nearby sales.

And of course, there are dozens upon dozens of mortgage calculators being used by lenders, portals and real estate brokerages everywhere.

But these solutions fall short in tackling the “tell me what to do” desire. Each focuses on one area or one phase and, with the exception of Keep, requires the user to enter data.

Which is why I’ve been thinking so much about Mint.

Mint already has a ton of data on its users and requires no number entry. It knows how much they owe on their mortgage. It knows their current interest rate. It knows when they get bonuses or earnings increases. It knows how their household spending breaks down. It knows how much they have saved for retirement.

Imagine one day Mint or a company like it helps users find the best price point for their next home, the best time to remodel, the best time to sell and move up or buy an investment home in a different city. Imagine this company also effectively eliminates the mortgage application process.

Finally, an all-encompassing tool that puts a person’s housing balance sheet into the big financial picture and adds intelligence around it to guide and support major real estate decisions.

Now that’s a big data idea for real estate.

[Disclosure: Keep is a 1000WATT client.]