Real Estate Video Games

by Mr. Cheap

NOTE: All software linked to in this post is NON-AFFILIATE. We don’t make any money off of any of these, I’m just linking to them because I think they’re interesting. The Reflexive games allow one hour of free play before purchase.

A few months ago I posted some ideas for a real estate video game I’d like to play. I’ve since come across a couple of games that are much better at presenting more realistic real estate concepts than Mansion Impossible is.

Build-a-lot is a game where you play a developer. You buy materials, hire workers and buy and sell land and buildings. The properties never increase in value (unless you build improvements on them), so the only ways to make money are to build properties and sell them, or collect rent from the properties you own.

I liked the concepts it presented of buying underused lots, building a higher value building on it, then selling it at a profit. Selling prices decrease if other properties are for sale (that’s the only element that affects the resale market and home prices).

I didn’t like how static everything was. Because you know the EXACT value and cost of every building and improvement in the game, it becomes quite easy to maximize your profit. It would have been interesting if they had included random elements affecting the property values and some concept of leverage (there’s no way to borrow money in the game).

If you like it and want to play for another hour, you can also try Build-a-lot 2.

A more sophisticated game, Real Estate Empire lets you pick a role, ranging for a carpenter (who can repair things more cheaply) to an MBA (who has a high salary and can put together better deals). You’re based in a town and play over 4 years, each turn taking a month, trying to buy and sell real estate for a profit, and selectively improve properties (looking for the best “bang for your buck” for improvements).

I really like the idea of different roles and how you can pursue different strategies (buying trashed houses and repairing them or buying undervalued properties then reselling them). You play against 4 computer opponents (in Build-a-lot there’s no competition). As well, you have a credit rating (which is bad when you start), which affects the financing terms on the various properties (as your credit improves, you can put less money down and pay less interest). The real estate market “fluctuates” in the game, so you can easily overpay for properties if you always offer sellers their asking price. You can also “over spend” on improvements where you fix up a property to the point that you can’t recoup what you put into it. You have to be careful about balancing the cost of renovations with the value they add. The game even offers you multiple options on how to sell your property, from a real estate agent (quick sale for 5% of the price), FSBO (balanced) or a newspaper ad (cheap and ineffective).

The one thing I found was a real weakness in the game is that each property had a “Estimated Value” which is what you can ALMOST ALWAYS sell the property for with a real estate agent. This makes a very straightforward (and effective) strategy simply to only buy properties with an asking price LOWER than their estimated value (still offering them a bit less than their asking price), then immediately resell it with a real estate agent (and the property will immediately resell for the estimated value – for some reason the new buyer didn’t want it the month before when it was a much lower price). If they removed the estimated value number (or made it vary wildly until you developed a better understanding of the market) I think it would improve the game.

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