When Zillow and various other tech companies decided to upend the real estate industry more than a decade ago, their tool of choice was information. With all their money and data skills, tech companies were able to thread together rigorous findings on every homesite. They took the mortgage data and the house features data and the tax data and the school data and wove it into a twinkling tapestry of particulars.
The public was mesmerized for years by the shiny fabric. It glistened and glowed and gave them more information than they could imagine. Like the ‘pre-foreclosure’ status, which delicately made public which one of the neighbors was behind on their payments. A little flag went up on the map to grab a scrollers attention. Many consumers interpreted this to mean that the house was for sale, and went up to the owners to inquire.
The wealth of information posted in one electronic capture was impressive. But it was only information. It was neither knowledge nor wisdom. Let me see if I can describe the differences with an analogy.
The weather is harsh in Minnesota with temperature swings from twenty below to over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason most single family homes are built on a full basement, so the footings are below the frost line. In addition to the temperature fluctuations we have quite a bit of water. Have you heard of the land of ten thousand lakes? That’s us!
You’re most probably familiar with basements. It’s where the utility room is located, housing the furnace, hot water heater and water softener. There is probably an electrical panel on one of the walls where the service is controlled by breaker switches. And if it is an older home, the washer and dryer are most likely in a laundry room along side a utility sink where the wash water drains.
Now all this information about what’s in a Minnesota basement might be evolving past some of you. The vague sense of the utilities being in that area is known, but identifying each of the mechanicals is becoming as shadowy as the utility room before you find the string cord and give it a yank to turn on the bare bulb light. You definitely can’t tell the difference from a security panel and the electrical, or where the main water shut-off is located. You have information but you don’t have knowledge.
Say there is a bunch of water on the floor. This is a problem. If left, it could cause mold and unpleasant odors. If there is chronic seepage into the big hole that is a basement, then there can be damage to the foundation walls. The seasonal pushing of water on the concrete blocks creates movement. You have information on what is in the basement. You may even have knowledge. But it takes the wisdom of knowing how the whole structure works.
The water pipes could be culprit, or the water heater may be leaking from its bottom. The drain under the 1950’s concrete laundry sink may have cracked beyond retightening. Or maybe the wall right behind the sink is experiencing seepage because the exterior gutter is plugged and overflowing with spring rains. This last one can get nasty over time. A seemingly innocent horizontal line will darken between the cinder blocks. Then widen. And if a decade goes by, you’ll notice a definite bowing of the wall.
You can only acquire wisdom over time. Information is flat. Wisdom has dimension. Zillow will never be wise.