Real Estate

Remodeling: In da Houzz

Social networking technology meets home design

What happens when you combine the words house and buzz?

The answer is the online community "Houzz," where design is democratic, said Liza Hausman, vice president of community at Houzz.

"Houzz is a website and mobile app for home remodeling and design," Hausman said. "It helps homeowners all the way through their home build, remodel or decorating project."

Co-founders and Palo Alto residents Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen created the online community while remodeling their own home in 2009. Houzz officially became a company the following year.

Houzz inspires, educates and connects, Hausman said. Users include homeowners and design professionals such as architects, interior designers, landscapers and contractors. Because the company earns revenue from advertising, Hausman added, using Houzz is free for homeowners and professionals alike.

More than two million high-resolution images of renovated homes are accessible through Houzz, Hausman said, and users can save images they like to online folders called "ideabooks."

"Homeowners can use (ideabooks) collaboratively with an architect, designer or contractor who they hire. Visuals are an effective way for homeowners who do not have the language of design to communicate," she said.

Houzz also includes a budgeting tool called the "Real Cost Finder," which shows cost ranges for projects, materials, labor and products based on ZIP code.

To date, more than 16 million homeowners use the free website each month. The Houzz mobile app, also free and available for both iOS and Android platforms, has been downloaded more then 12 million times, Hausman said.

"Many professionals around the country and in Palo Alto are getting new clients (by using Houzz)," Hausman said. "They are able to showcase their work to a much broader audience than before, when things were more strictly word of mouth."

Rebecca Thompson, who moved to Palo Alto from Seattle with her family more than four years ago, used Houzz for a landscaping project at her home in the Palo Verde neighborhood.

While the initial impetus for Thompson's landscaping project was the removal of an old backyard swimming pool, she said she and her husband decided to replace all their landscaping to complement their Eichler home.

Thompson said her time perusing Houzz initially started off as a guilty pleasure, but it ended up paying off both financially and aesthetically.

Because Houzz facilitates communication between homeowners and design professionals, Thompson said she thoroughly researched the details of the project herself. She estimated that Houzz saved them thousands of dollars in consulting fees.

"Houzz was a critical resource for decision-making," Thompson said.

By sharing her Houzz ideabooks with her landscape designer and also her contractor, Thompson said she was able to have directed conversations about the project that otherwise might have required paid consultants.

"We were able to do a much higher-end project for less money," she said.

Using Houzz is like having access to thousands of housing and design magazines, Thompson added, but with streamlined search options.

"If you see a picture you like, you can find out what the materials are," Thompson said. "Through Houzz, we were able to contact professionals and ask questions like,'What size cinder blocks?' or 'What color concrete?'"

And asking professionals lots of questions is exactly what Thompson did.

When Thompson searched for "Eichler landscaping" on Houzz, she said she viewed an image of a combination cinder block wall and fountain that she loved. Through Houzz, Thompson said she contacted the company that posted the photo, Huettl Landscape Architecture of Walnut Creek. By talking with them, Thompson said she learned specifics about the project that allowed her to customize her own cinder-block wall and fountain.

"We were able to take an idea that we loved and modify it for our own needs and scale," Thompson said.

Thompson said she also learned that the cinder blocks in the Houzz image came from a commercial supplier, Calstone. So she went to Calstone to ask questions about cinder blocks and said she ended up getting a custom product for her property.

"I ended up working directly with a (Calstone) guy who is a plant manager," Thompson said. "Cinder blocks come in all different faces and colors; there are standard and custom colors. If a commercial project does a custom color, they might have an overrun. (My) blocks are just cinder blocks, but they have a slice taken off them, to expose the aggregate underneath them. They are also only 6 inches high, which is not standard."

Even though Calstone usually only works with commercial clients, Thompson said her contact there asked to see pictures of everything related to her finished project.

Linking design professionals and homeowners is what sets Houzz apart in the crowded online social-networking market, Thompson said.

"Houzz let us imagine things we would not have been able to dream up on our own," Thompson said. "It makes design so much more accessible."

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