The Power is Now

Edina native founds real estate preservation platform – ECM Publishers

HouseNovel

A property in Edina, where the Christ Presbyterian Church now sits at 6901 Normandale Road, once had a home located at that site – captured in a black-and-white photo from the 1960s as displayed on HouseNovel, which took its data from the Hennepin History Museum Collections. (Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library and the Hennepin History Museum)

There’s often more to a home than its value, its square footage and when it was last sold.

A recently launched startup, co-founded by an Edina native, looks to add color to a person’s search for their new home – by letting them explore its history.

The startup, called HouseNovel, digitally preserves real estate history in communities across the U.S., including Edina. Founded by Edina native Amanda Zielike and her husband, David Decker, the company launched last month, inviting visitors to its site to search a specific address, browse their communities and input their own stories to be captured in history.

When she first thought of the idea to create the digital database, Zielike, a 2008 graduate of Edina High School, recalled asking herself: “How do we bring people together and collaborate and have fun and interact with each other to share … memories and bring other people into those memories?”

The Minnetonka couple came up with the idea of HouseNovel after they had visited Decker’s mom, who had many photos and stories about a previous home of hers, Zielike explained. The home, an old farmhouse in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood, was renovated by Decker’s parents but later succumbed to foreclosure in 2011 and was torn down.

Decker’s mom was going through old storage boxes and came across a large number of photos of the old home and was “beaming” while sharing its stories, Zielike recalled. “We’re like, there has to be a way to extract these photos where everyone has so many of them and they have so many memories in their minds.”

She added, “We just love hearing about his mom’s stories,” and wanted to make those experiences accessible to others. “It kind of amplifies the idea of Facebook and Instagram but specific to your memories at home.”

Zielike and Decker are no strangers to the world of real estate. Both have held prominent positions within the industry, totaling a combined 20 years of expertise.

Zielike, who once worked at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, previously led marketing for real estate firms JLL and Colliers. Decker has an extensive history in real estate planning at Twin Cities companies like CliftonLarsonAllen, UnitedHealth Group and most recently, as head of real estate for Bright Health Group.

Prior to launching HouseNovel, Zielike founded her own marketing firm, A/Z Strategy Partners.

Beyond expertise in real estate, Zielike said the pair has always had a passion for the field and for the way old buildings are repurposed for modern uses. She said they hope the platform prevents complete teardowns of historic homes, like Edina’s mid-century residences.

“We just really want to spread the word about the positive changes that we think this can bring as well as bringing more people together and just making our communities and culture that much more rich,” Zielike said.

Preserving home histories digitally

The platform can be used by anyone interested in finding the history of a home, including a potential buyer, curious resident or a previous owner looking to add memories.

When logging on, visitors are able to type in an address to see if there is any available information on the property. In addition to user-added notes, the platform also draws from databases such as those found at historical societies and the Library of Congress, and through general internet searches, Zielike said.

“We’ve just been adding more and more records every day,” she said. So far, there are over 15,000 records across the U.S., about 8,500 in the Twin Cities and 100 for Edina-area homes, Zielike said.

When a user adds photos of their home, construction documents or other stories from the property, the contributions automatically populate a timeline “so you can see the progression of it in real time,” Zielike said.

Some prominent property histories captured on HouseNovel include the F. Scott Fitzgerald House in St. Paul, Raymond Loewy’s house in Palm Springs, California, and the Grimes House in Edina.

In addition to searching for a specific property, site visitors can also look at neighborhood and citywide views of homes that have recorded history. Zielike pointed to the Edina Country Club neighborhood as having older, beautiful homes with a “rich history behind them.”

“It’s super cool to be able to go in and look at the neighborhood and see what was once there,” she said.

Molly McIntosh, executive director of the Edina Historical Society, said she often fields calls from homeowners looking to find historical information on their properties. Having a platform like this for people doing individual research is “fantastic for being able to find the lived experience of the property,” she said.

Zielike noted that a major point of achievement for the company would be to expand the site’s number of users.

“We really want it to be a collaborative network,” she said. “All our site really is about is bringing people together to share those stories, preserve their own family memories and be able to create a collaborative network of real estate agents, architects, planners, historians, and just people who are super passionate about preserving history.”

Another goal is to be of use to future homebuyers similar to that of Zillow – “an integral part of a home purchasing decision,” Zielike said.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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