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The big business of tracking home prices

The dramatic collapse and recovery of home prices in recent years has stoked interest in the fate of housing, creating new fans for wonky price indexes formerly tracked mostly by the slide-rule set.

The dramatic collapse and recovery of home prices in recent years has stoked interest in the fate of housing, creating new fans for wonky price indexes formerly tracked mostly by the slide-rule set.

A company that provides much of that data has just completed a $750 million shopping spree, making it the 800-pound gorilla of real estate numbers.

In addition to producing its own monthly price index, CoreLogic of Irvine, Calif., now owns two other leading brands: The Case-Shiller home price indices and DataQuick Information Systems.

But the acquisition binge included much more than home-price trackers.

CoreLogic also bought a leading provider of building replacement costs, two new operations that track flood zone locations and a firm that forecasts disaster risks for property owners around the globe.

The combined operations give CoreLogic the ability to sell clients information about almost any property's past, present and future, said Olumide Soroye, CoreLogic's managing director for information solutions.

"This really is about a lot more than just the (home price) indices," Soroye said. "It's about the gold standard of data we can offer the industry on properties and their life cycle."

The acquisitions enhance the databases and analytical tools CoreLogic already sells. Those include technology to detect fraud and provide information on real estate transactions, mortgages, collateral, payment histories and property locations and features.

The firm's 10 biggest clients – mostly top banks – account for 29 percent of its revenue, the company has reported in public filings. Other clients include mortgage lenders and brokers, investors, real estate agents, insurance companies, property managers and government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae.

Last year, CoreLogic generated $1.3 billion in revenue, $591 million from its data and analytics division.

As money from services for mortgage lenders declines amid rising interest rates, CoreLogic is trying to increase revenue from the data and analytics side of its business.

"Builders and developers are interested. Lenders are interested. Hedge funds are interested," observed Bill McBride, author of Calculated Risk, a housing and finance blog followed by economists. "Clearly it has to provide good revenue for them. ... That's a big part of their business."

Data firms that include RealtyTrac, Zillow, DataQuick, Redfin and CoreLogic produce a host of housing market reports – distributed for free to the news media – to promote themselves.

Businesses are more likely to think of them when they need information about a particular deed or mortgage, or when buying data on specific markets or acquiring automated valuation models.

"The PR benefit is very large," said Richard Green, director of the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate.

Data firms are careful not to provide free information that competes with products they sell, which includes loan-by-loan data and information that helps lenders detect fraud or determine which borrowers are greater default risks.

CoreLogic is one of the nation's biggest real-estate data firms, with 3.3 billion records covering 99 percent of U.S. properties over the past 40 years.

Records include the history of a parcel's owners, details on loan modifications, secondary market securities, real estate listings and transactions, Soroye said.

CoreLogic acquired DataQuick as part of a package of operations from Decision Insight Information Group for $661 million.

The deal also included the purchase of Marshall and Swift/Boeckh, which provides data on building replacement costs as well – information that's vital to insurance companies.

In December, CoreLogic spent $20.5 million on EQECAT Inc., an Oakland firm with an office in Irvine. The catastrophe modeling firm helps insurance companies around the world quantify their clients' exposure to disasters.

The combined data enables CoreLogic to create analytical tools that help businesses make better decisions, Soroye said.

CoreLogic can give clients information about a particular parcel: Where it is, what it is, what it's made of, who owned it, replacement value of structures and its exposure to earthquakes, floods, wind and fire. "As you know, big data is a big area right now, and we are sitting on the premier set of data around property," Soroye said.

CoreLogic clients can go online and order data, can buy a subscription that gives them access for a period of time or can seek a one-off purchase for a set of records.

Products include property databases – provided over the Internet or in bulk form – that clients can resell to their customers. Lenders can buy access to the company's Web portal to learn whether a single property – or a batch of properties – are located in flood zones.

For the near term, CoreLogic will keep its three home-price indexes separate, continuing to issue its Case-Shiller and DataQuick reports for free.

Eventually, however, CoreLogic will make improvements in all three indexes, with an eye toward developing more tools and products it can sell to property businesses.

"The sum (of those three indexes) is greater than the parts," Soroye said. The question for CoreLogic, he said, "is how can we take all that and make it more powerful."



–The Case-Shiller Home Price Indices: Purchased from FiServ Inc. for $6 million in April 2013. The deal includes the monthly index tracking 20 key U.S. metro areas, plus a lesser known quarterly index covering about 100 U.S. cities.

–Bank of America's flood zone determination and tax processing services operations: Purchased in July for $62.5 million. The tax operation makes sure that property tax payments are paid on behalf of mortgage services and during escrows.

–EQECAT Inc.: Bought for $20.5 million in December. EQECAT provides catastrophic risk modeling to the insurance market.

–Marshall and Swift/Boeckh: The firm was a key component in last month's $661 million acquisition from Decision Insight Information Group. It provides replacement costs for homes and buildings, information that's vital to insurance providers.

–DataQuick Information Systems: Known in California for its monthly home price and sales reports, the firm also is a vendor of real estate data to mortgage lenders, banks and other private businesses, using data chiefly acquired from CoreLogic.

–DataQuick Lender Solutions' credit and flood division: Another component of last month's $661 million purchase from Decision Insight.


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