FEATURED CITIZEN STORIES

Shawn Peterson

Founder of Propertize.ca
@RothesayShawn

 

Aside from his day job at T4G as a Solutions Developer for Custom Applications, Shawn is passionate about making transformational change by accessing and analyzing open data sets. Propertize is a website that Shawn created in 2009 which allows residents of New Brunswick to simply view their property tax assessment information and compare it to nearby properties. What started in 2009 has become an incredibly valuable tool for many New Brunswickers, in fact, it recently helped identify a problem that resulted in a family saving $8,500.

Q: What prompted you to start Propertize?

I’d love to say that it was due to a passion for open data; but, it was actually created to solve a specific problem that I experienced.

After buying my first house in 2008, I received my first property tax bill in the mail. It told me the assessed value and the property tax that I had to pay. At the bottom of the bill, it described a process to appeal the assessment; but, I had no way to know if I should appeal or not.

I started looking and found a Service New Brunswick website with the property tax data that I needed to make a decision.  Unfortunately, I could only view one property at a time, and it was very time consuming to copy and paste into an Excel spreadsheet to let me compare nearby properties. I knew there had to be a better way to quickly compare this data.

Q: How has Propertize grown since it was first created?

*Analytics of success

Usage of Propertize is increasing year-over-year as more people use it to compare their property tax assessments. Since 2011, Google Analytics has tracked 112,000 users accessing the website. The majority of users are from New Brunswick, specifically Saint John (38,000), Moncton (20,000), and Fredericton (17,000). Usage of the website is highest during the month of March when tax bills are sent out to property owners.

Q: How are New Brunswickers using Propertize today?

The website started out as a tool to solve my problem – determining if my assessment should be appealed or not. In 2014, I noticed comparable homes were selling for much less than my assessed value. I was able to determine this quickly using Propertize. I appealed and my assessment was reduced by nearly $20,000.

Outside of comparing assessments, people are using the site when looking at purchasing properties. The site quickly and easily retrieves recent sales (as far back as 2009) enabling people to see the selling price of homes in a neighborhood, along with the property tax that that would likely be paying.

Others are using the site and finding problems with their tax bill. In one case, an apartment had been demolished after a fire. It was re-built on the same property as a single family home. After comparing to nearby properties, the owner was able to determine they were not receiving their primary residence credit – resulting in them nearly paying the “double-tax”.

Propertize empowers the public.

By using open data sets, I was able to create something that is helping New Brunswickers. Without access to this data, we would not have any way to determine if our property tax assessments and bills are fair.

Q: What does the future of Propertize look like?

As more data sets are opened up, I’ll be able to add more depth to the platform.

What’s difficult about expanding this service is that the property assessment process is extremely unique in each province – no two are the same. And to tack on to that, New Brunswick is such a small piece puzzle in North America.

Ultimately, I intend to keep moving forward and continue adding features that help people here in New Brunswick make better decisions. I don’t want to see anyone paying more tax than they should.

Q: How can we use open data to solve other problems?

At the end of the day, the biggest bottlenecks are where the data is coming from. When it’s government data sources, it can feel like we are banging our heads against a wall. The conversation started in 2009 and we haven’t progressed at all since then.

I believe the movement for open data really comes down to the personal and financial aspects – it needs to tie back to people’s wallets. We need to demonstrate that there is money in the data and potentially in your own pocket by knowing how to use it.

The root of opening data sets starts by addressing a problem then identifying the right data to support a solution. The result is not only putting power in the hands of the masses; but, growing the possibility of serious economic development.

 

My top three data sets that I’d love to have access to, would be:

  • Property Tax and Sales Data
  • Vehicle Registration and Vehicle Weight Data
  • Hospital Emergency Room Wait Times Data

Q: In your simplest words, how did you create this amazing feature?

Propertize didn’t happen overnight. It’s been slowing growing since 2009 to where it is today.

People that use Propertize and send feedback have been a big reason for coninuing to develop the site. I continue to get great ideas and suggestions from users.  “Shawn, have you ever thought about this ____” or “It’d be sweet if I could ____”.

Continuing to add new features that users want, and making is easy for people to use is how  Propertize ended up where it is today.  

Q: Is there any moment in particular where you almost taken-back by the impact of Propertize?

I love hearing stories of how Propertize has helped people. Just the other day I received this message from a user:

I’ve been telling everyone this story. We talk a lot about open data; but, how often can you talk about the real financial impacts?  That is why I love hearing stories like this. The government took $8,500 too much from you? Without data you wouldn’t be getting that money back.

What makes it so rewarding is that it’s giving everyday citizens the ability to see if they’re being treated fairly.

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