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House Hunting Is Going High-Tech

October 06, 1985|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Glenn Hightower would like to build a robot that sells for $10,000 and cleans baths, but for the moment, the 32-year-old inventor is marketing a high-tech system he created for people looking to buy and sell homes.

The system--consisting of a laser disk, a personal computer, a monitor and two printers--allows a shopper to view color pictures of a home and get such particulars as the number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, type of architecture, lot size, and year built, along with comments such as:

--"Previous owner was a horticulture enthusiast who landscaped spacious yard;

--"Large tangerine tree yields tasty fruit, and

--"A cheery Spanish-style kitchen to please family cooks."

Before any of this appears on the computer screen, the home is qualified by price and other requirements.

Using Split Screen

"Say a person wants a four-bedroom house in Glendora for $375,000 to $500,000," Hightower suggested. "Then we just type in these requirements, they appear on the right side of the (split) screen, we push a button, and a list of homes in this category appears on the left side."

Suppose the shopper is only interested in four-bedroom Glendora houses with swimming pools in this price range. Another button is pushed and a list of these houses appears.

The data is not unlike that on multiple listing sheets, and computerization is no newcomer to many real estate offices. So what's new and different about Hightower's system?

"Basically, two things," he answers. "First, the terminal goes fast, much faster than the low-capitalized operations of most real estate offices.

"And second, there is video."

Color Photos

Not only can the laser disk of Hightower's system store 5,000 listings, he said, but it can also contain eight to 20 color photos of each home, whereas multiple listing sheets usually only have a couple of photos at most, and those are in black and white. Hightower's system can hold an estimated 55,000 stills.

"So not only can you read some text about what the house has but you can see the living room, the fireplace and the built-in bookcase," he noted. "You can see the mountain view."

The number of pictures per home depends on the list price. As Hightower put it, "Ten pictures is about right for a $120,000 house, and maybe 20 pictures for a $1-million home."

The home shopper can get printouts of the pictures and the text.

Pictures can also be useful as a sales tool for walk-in traffic, Hightower said, "because a real estate agent could put, say, 341 properties on the (laser) disk, put the disk on a roll, and then go (automatically) from one property to another on video." By putting the monitor in the office window, the broker might entice passers-by to ask about pictured homes.

Used in Valleys

This is happening already in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys, where his invention, known as Video Listing Systems, is in use. Many companies, including such major organizations as AT&T, have tried to develop laser disk, video listing systems, Hightower says, but he claims that his firm is "the only manufacturer to have a system working in realty offices." His system is currently operating in 25.

"I want to penetrate all of Southern California," he said, "but we started in the San Gabriel Valley because our offices are located there. We're in Pasadena."

So is APh Technological Consulting, which he founded 11 years ago. VLS is an adjunct.

"APh is our research-and-development firm," he explained. It has designed computer applications for time clocks that don't need time cards, created sophisticated electronic cash registers, designed an apple sorter and worked on motion picture special effects.

"VLS was formed in 1984 in anticipation of (marketing) the video listing product," he added. The product was developed after Hightower went apartment hunting and "hit upon this idea of combining laser technology with a much-needed service," as he phrases it.

In Space Program

VLS contracts for maintenance with APh, which has 42 employees--"most of them engineers who graduated from Caltech," he said.

Hightower is a Caltech graduate with a master's degree in applied physics. As early as his sophomore year, he was involved in the U.S. space program, writing computer programs to reduce spacecraft data.

He has been called an electronics wizard for his inventiveness. Not only did he create APh and VLS and still heads both firms, but he contends that he was the originator of the first hand-held video games. He says he instructed Mattel engineers in microprocessing.

No wonder then that the idea of a game came to mind as a way to sell VLS to attendees of the California Assn. of Realtors convention last week in Anaheim.

Anyone who visited the VLS display could become eligible to play on a giant Monopoly board for prizes including sets of Monopoly. The promotion was also appropriate because it coincided with the game's 50th anniversary year.

Invented Table

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