John Karevoll finds success mining real estate data for news nuggets

Lauren Beale
Hot Property
John Karevoll mines real estate data for nuggets of news that sometimes upsets those in the industry

The gig: John Karevoll is a noted data miner for CoreLogic DataQuick, a San Diego information service that generates housing statistics and custom reports for builders, developers, banks and public agencies.

Take off: Karevoll, 63, was born in Minneapolis but moved as a preteen to Norway, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications from Volda University College in Volda.

Flight path: After working as a journalist in Norway, Karevoll moved back to the U.S. in 1983, dividing his time freelancing for newspapers and magazines "back in the old country," as he affectionately calls his adopted homeland, and working for the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.

Above the clouds: "Right around then is when I got my first computer," he said. "It was like there was a chorus of angels singing in the background. I can remember the sound of floppy disk driving in the drive. I was hooked."

Taking flight: As a writer, Karevoll found he had a knack for making sense of reports and statistics. "I really like data," he said. "I really like just going into a database and finding out stuff." He capitalized on his abilities by moving on in 1988 to a company that was being acquired by TRW, which was then in the real estate information business. A year later he was working for their competitor DataQuick, where he soon made a name for himself as an analyst.

Flying high: "The next 10 years were remarkable," he said. DataQuick, which was acquired by CoreLogic last year, gave him wide-open access to its databases. In the rows of numbers he saw patterns, trends and even breaking news that he released to the media. "We started to generate stories on topics nobody had ever covered before," he said, "at a level of detail nobody had seen." ZIP Code by ZIP Code home sales counts, the composition of home-buying populations versus non-buying populations and sales counts by popular surnames were among the changes he tracked. "There was a zone I would get in when I found out something," Karevoll said. "I knew it would be on the front page of the newspaper in two days."

Turbulence: As foreclosures starting gaining traction, the figures he was churning out upset many people within the housing industry. "There were enormous pressures to not publish bad news," Karevoll recalled. "There were times I was accused of sabotaging the housing market and hung out to dry at conferences by well-known speakers." A data run looking at the percentage of home sellers who had sold at a loss was particularly unpopular. Quarterly lists of the largest and most active banks and the most active home builders also proved to be contentious, he said. "It was not always an easy thing."

Earning his wings: In bearing news that was sometimes bad, Karevoll had the full support of his bosses at DataQuick. "Just make sure you're right," he recalls one saying. Data audits would repeatedly support his findings. Still, he said, "there were times when I couldn't get to sleep, I was so worried."

Equipment upgrades: Two decades ago, Karevoll would drive to the company's offices in San Diego to pick up piles of floppy disks. "Getting the data was a huge deal back then," he said. With the advent of computer dial-up connections he could pull in information throughout the night at a rate of about 10 home sales a minute. "But it was like emptying a swimming pool with a straw," he said. Now he accesses thousands of sales a second.

Traffic control: Although the Internet now provides access to unlimited information, Karevoll sees problems for unwary users. "Nobody is vetting the information for them," he said. Providers of information may be using it as a marketing tool, to promote an agenda or add their own bias, he said. "You don't know if what you are looking at is valid."

Grounded: Karevoll still speaks Norwegian and reads a book or two a week. His ability to put numbers into words is partly the result of growing up bilingual, he said. "That probably rings those chimes."

Route to success: He credits his early reporting background for teaching him to see trends in the larger context. "Coming from the media side, you have a certain mind-set," he said. Working for Associated Press in Oslo he was often called upon to write stories based on annual reports. "For whatever reason, I could page through and see the differences, the narratives," Karevoll said. "There's a story line."

Charting your own course: "People need to go with where their interests are," he said. Karevoll has done other database work involving business and bankruptcy filings. "But I like real estate. The few times I've had to do other stuff," he said, "that was really a grind."

A hobby gains altitude: A decade or so ago, Karevoll discovered the joys of flying. "I came to it late," he said. "That's probably why I'm so completely enamored." He flies an ultralight out of Perris that is "like a lawn chair with a wing over it" and has a so-called experimental plane in Redlands. The enthusiastic aviator tries to fly about two or three times a week.

Landing: He also enjoys hiking and being outdoors. Karevoll and his wife make their home in Running Springs, where he works remotely and can take in the scenic vistas of the San Bernardino Mountains. "While a lot of people want their employees to show up at work," he said, "I sit up here in the mountains in my big, wonderful office."

lauren.beale@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATHotProperty

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