Price These Homes

We just launched a new, fun feature on our Web site where people get to demonstrate their real estate prowess with virtual dollars and also help us all get a better grip on home prices in the Chicago area. It’s called Price This Home.

This new feature was created based upon three simple facts:

  1. When it comes to real estate everyone is an expert – or at least they think they are
  2. A group of people can produce better estimates or answers than the average individual (that’s actually a fact)
  3. Chicago homes just aren’t selling these days and it’s often because they are mis-priced

Enter prediction markets, which are sort of like futures markets – you know, where all those traders yell at each other about pork bellies. It is said that you can get a more accurate weather forecast for Florida by watching orange juice futures than you can by listening to the national weather service. Well, that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all the NWS is part of the government.

Participants in a prediction market buy or sell “contracts” with either real or virtual money based upon their outlook for certain events – e.g. who will win the presidency. The investment activity influences the value of the contracts, which represent the predicted outcome. For instance, right now Obama contracts on Intrade sell for $.65. If you buy these contracts and he wins you get $1.00 for every $.65 you invested. If he loses you get nothing. Therefore, a contract value of $.65 represents the consensus view that he has a 65% chance of winning.

The really cool thing about prediction markets, just like the financial markets they emulate, is that over time the people who are really good at predicting stuff end up with more money. And people with more money in these markets have more influence over the consensus prediction.

So we thought we would apply this concept to estimating home values in the Chicago area. Here is how it works. When you sign up with Price This Home you receive 5,000 virtual prediction dollars which you can then invest in various home price contracts. For each contract you either buy it in the belief that the ultimate sales price is going to be higher than the current prediction or you sell it in the belief that the ultimate sales price is going to be lower. The market price then moves in proportion to the size of your investment and you either make or lose money based upon how accurate your prediction is.

We are starting out with just a few homes in the market but if there is a lot of interest we will add more. Give it a try and have fun!

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