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: ‘Zoning laws are critical’: Are you allowed you to build an extension — or list your home as a short-term rental? This new website will help you find out.

Local zoning laws have shaped the way housing was built in America, but it’s hard to know which rules apply to your specific area without digging through local records. A new initiative hopes to use artificial intelligence to provide that information to homebuyers.

On Monday, real-estate brokerage company Redfin
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+0.74%

announced that it was adding zoning and land use data to over 70 million homes’ description pages.

The zoning data comes from Zoneomics, which signed a partnership with Redfin
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.

Zoneomics is a real-estate platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to collect and analyze zoning data.

“Zoning laws are critical for consumers to understand because they regulate how properties can and cannot be used,” Redfin said in a statement.

“‘These laws and regulations can be difficult for buyers to discern during the homebuying process since relevant information is often buried on government websites or in complex local zoning codes’”

— Redfin

“These laws and regulations can be difficult for buyers to discern during the homebuying process since relevant information is often buried on government websites or in complex local zoning codes,” they added.

Business and home owners are likely to be familiar with how zoning laws can be both confusing and limiting.

As Brookings’ Jenny Schuetz describes in a report from 2019, one county’s zoning code runs for eight pages, and their ordinance is nearly 400 pages.

Local zoning laws tell you what you can do, what you can build, and what you can’t. Parts of the country only allow for single-family homes, because of these laws.

But in other parts, such as in high-density areas, owners can build apartments (or multi-family units), build backyard homes, list their place on a short-term rental website, and so on. That’s because their zoning laws allow for that.

Some have done away with zoning, considering it a hindrance when trying to build more housing to meet demand. California, for example, has modified single-family zoning to build more units.

And to be clear, the country needs housing: Last year, Freddie Mac
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+0.88%

estimated that the U.S. was short of 3.8 million homes by the end of 2020.

For a prospective homeowner, information about zoning laws can be valuable, especially if they’re looking for to invest.

Though this information can come from a local realtor, or through their own research, this new effort by Redfin is designed to empower prospective buyers and look for that information themselves.

Redfin said it would add the zoning descriptions to homes both for sale and off the market. This would include the zone code, name, type, description, and a list of permitted, conditional and accessory land uses.

“Zoning data has a unique and crucial position in the U.S. and Canada, where it is essential but also needlessly gate kept from the homebuyer,” Matthew Player, Zoneomics CEO, said in a statement.

He said the new service “will help us provide important data and zoning reports to consumers without any hassle, effectively democratizing access to zoning data across North America.”

Got thoughts on the housing market? Write to: aarthi@marketwatch.com

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