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Mike Leavy’s dream is ‘a common real estate vocabulary and a shared sense of listing information’

By January 7, 2015 One Comment

Mike Leavy

Product architect at Move Inc.


Time at Move Inc.: Four years

What he does: I’m a “mobile architect,” which means I interface with other technology groups on how to design our infrastructure and services, and I write a lot of iOS code — primarily in Swift nowadays.

Age: Somewhere north of 40, well south of 100.

Degree: B.S., Computer Science with a minor in English Literature from the University of California, San Diego

Location: Santa Cruz, California

Social media: LinkedIn

“You work for a real estate technology company? That sounds kinda boring.” That’s the response I often get when someone asks me what I do, and, although I’m tempted to tell them I’m Batman, instead I tell them the truth:

For most of my professional career, I’ve worked in the digital-imaging space, including 13 years at Adobe Systems, most recently as an architect in their imaging group. So moving to real estate was a rather odd course change for me. When I left, my former Adobe colleagues were left scratching their heads.

But way back in 2008, the iPhone SDK (software developer kit) was just sitting there, staring me in the face, and I knew that what I really wanted to do was to create apps for these new devices (and 13 years of moving pixels around seems to have satisfied my digital-imaging itch).

At the time, a few of my former Adobe friends were at Move Inc., so I made my way over there and immediately began implementing the “sketch-a-search” feature in the realtor.com iPhone app.

Helping to build the realtor.com app from the ground up was fun and reminded me how much I enjoy creating shiny, brand-new things and learning new technologies. So I started working on new apps for Move, as well as the back-end services that power them.

I wrote the first realtor.com rentals app, and soon after that our Doorsteps team in New York City started shopping around a concept for a new kind of real estate listings app. Because I love to travel, and I especially love big, crowded cities with lots of taxi cabs, working with the New York team was a perfect match. We created the award-winning Doorsteps Swipe app in approximately 10 weeks.

There are a lot of cool things I could be doing in the mobile market right now. But working in the real estate space at Move affords me the opportunity to create fun new user experiences while also learning about and helping to build the services and infrastructure that power them. And, since I love traveling so much, what better area to focus on than one that involves large, immovable objects? Wait …


Leavy’s workspace.

Favorite Twitter account.

NSHipster. I like Medium, too.

Favorite food?

Spaghetti and/or a well executed taco.

Favorite video game?

I’ve spent too much time lately playing Two Dots (on iPhone). Console games don’t excite me — I can’t sit still long enough.

Favorite city?

Oaxaca, Mexico.

Favorite band or singer?

An impossible question to answer. I’d have to add further constraints, such as favorite singer of the last two years. Then I’d say Lana Del Rey, who has recently supplanted Lady GaGa ;-).

What do you hate about technology?

I hate when it makes noises and wakes me up in the morning.

What is one thing you would like to fix about the real estate industry?

That’s easy: listing photo quality. Mobile devices and user interfaces provide such a rich platform for displaying photographic content, yet much of the real estate industry is still producing low-quality and low-resolution listing photos. It can’t be a storage cost issue, because disk space is cheap; it can’t be a camera issue, because even an iPhone produces high-resolution, good quality photos. Industry service providers need to be continually evaluating technology to make sure we all are using systems and delivering solutions that are in line with consumer expectations.

Do you think technology can change the industry?

Not only can technology change the industry, but it is changing the industry and will continue to do so. Consumers expect to be able to use the Web and — even more so — mobile devices and apps to help them find a place to live. Technology solutions will become more and more sophisticated as they evolve to make the home search experience even simpler and more customized and relevant for the consumer. The real estate industry will need to continue to adapt their business practices in a way that is inclusive and complimentary to this inevitable technological evolution.

In or out of real estate, is there one problem, large or small, that you would like to solve?

I’d like to solve world hunger. Oh wait, this isn’t a beauty pageant. But it is a wide-open question. I’ll focus on real estate to keep it somewhat contained: I’d like to solve the problem of being able to understand a consumer’s home search requirements to such an extent that I can deliver to them (or at least highlight for them) only those listings that are relevant to their individual requirements and tastes. Understanding what is important to the consumer is the easy part of this equation; matching what is important to them with existing listing inventory is much more challenging. For example, if the presence or absence of a swimming pool is a deal-breaker for a consumer, I need to reliably know that every listing I have access to either has a pool or does not have a pool. With the disparity of both listing terminology and completeness, it is effectively impossible to state unequivocally (from a listing data perspective) that Listing A does or does not have a swimming pool. I’d like to help get us to a state where there is a common real estate vocabulary and a shared sense of listing information where an assertion that any given listing does or does not include a particular feature becomes a safe and reliable statement. I think that search experiences such as realtor.com’s are helping bring this consistency about.

What motivates you?

Probably learning more than anything else. I love to learn — about history, business, and, foremost, new technologies and methodologies for solving problems. I have the perfect career, because technology advances and grows so quickly and reliably that it affords me a constant learning opportunity that I find immensely rewarding (sometimes too rewarding!).

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