In recent years, the Ukrainian government has identified open data as a key priority for the country’s development. Since 2015, public officials have published thousands of datasets from central and local government agencies on the state open data portal. According to a study carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics and the Open Data Institute, open data accounted for $700 million (0.67%) of Ukraine’s GDP in 2017. The authors of the study believe that if Ukraine continues publishing data in accordance with Cabinet of Ministers Decree No. 835, the economic benefits will increase twofold by 2025, reaching more than $1.4 billion (or 0.92%) of the country’s GDP. Open data relating to architecture and construction, business entities, court cases, and other areas allows Ukrainians to access services that had previously been nonexistent or too costly and therefore unreachable to the public at large. Moreover, the use of open data in the fight against corruption sheds light on government activities and makes pre-existing information much easier to analyze, process, and combine, allowing for a new level of public scrutiny.

First Step: Winning the Open Data Challenge

In 2017, in collaboration with 1991 Open Data Incubator and East Europe Foundation, Eurasia Foundation and the State Agency for e-Governance (now the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine) launched the annual Open Data Challenge with support from USAID/UK aid’s Transparency and Accountability in Public Administration and Services (TAPAS) project.

The Open Data Challenge taps into Ukraine’s open data and innovation potential by supporting products and services that utilize open data to combat corruption or generate business opportunities and societal benefits. 2020 was the fourth and final year of the Open Data Challenge. Between 2017 and 2020, the Open Data Challenge received 700 applications from teams of developers, entrepreneurs, and activists eager to participate in the competition. Over the course of four years, 19 out of 54 finalists collectively took home more than $380,000 in prize money to develop and expand their innovative services.

Monitor.Estate was one of the winners of the 2018 Open Data Challenge. With Monitor.Estate, users can verify whether the information they receive from a housing developer about a construction project is accurate or forged. For example, prospective homebuyers can use Monitor.Estate to check the status of building permits, validity of contractor licenses, land management violations, any litigation that has been taken against construction project participants, and more.

Problems with New Housing Construction Projects in Ukraine

Ukraine has its fair share of problems when it comes to construction projects—even condominiums that appear legitimate can turn out to be entangled in litigation or built on land that has officially been designated for other uses. Meanwhile, developers with a solid track record can suddenly go bankrupt.

One of Monitor.Estate’s founders is Volodymyr Kopot, a managing partner at KopotLawyers with 17 years' experience as an attorney. It still surprises Kopot that in a country where families often spend their entire savings on an apartment (approximately $40,000-$50,000), many people are still reluctant to spend $200-$300 for legal services to vet a developer, verify building permits, and have a purchase contract reviewed. When it comes to purchasing a new home, people make their decisions in several ways. Some may go by hearsay and reviews, while others consider factors such as price and location. Still others may investigate the developer only through media coverage.

Although the practice of verifying the legitimacy of housing projects was not common in Ukraine prior to the launch of Monitor.Estate, Kopot’s firm frequently received requests from house-hunting clients asking for background checks on developers. Kopot often spent up to four hours a day just to gather the paperwork—including information about the developer, contractors, and permits—for a particular construction project. Analyzing the information took several more hours. This is how Monitor.Estate, a service that analyzes open data on the legal risks involved in the purchase and lease of real estate, was born.

Monitor.Estate: Quick and Accessible to All

Kopot began working on Monitor.Estate in the summer of 2017 alongside his business partner and Chief Technology Officer, Aleksandr Radzishevskyi. The founders invested close to $2,000 of their own funds in the service, which was up and running by the time they joined the 2018 Open Data Challenge. After winning the competition in 2018 and claiming prize money of UAH 500,000 (approximately $17,600), the team of two was able to finalize the service and scale up the project from Kyiv to other regions and cities with large populations. Monitor.Estate allows users to conduct limited checks on new housing construction projects free of charge. For a more advanced, in-depth analysis, users must pay a $90 fee per property.

Monitor.Estate currently runs checks on housing construction projects, developed properties, and developers based on data from the Register of the State Architecture and Construction Inspectorate, the Uniform State Register of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs, the Uniform State Judicial Register, the Uniform Register of Debtors, the Registers of the Fiscal Service, the Automated System of Enforcement Proceedings, and the Public Cadastral Map of Ukraine.

Just two years ago, the Monitor.Estate website had 100 visitors per month. Today, that number has climbed to 40 times that number, averaging 4,000 visitors per month. Indeed, across Ukraine, real estate background checks are becoming more and more common. Monitor.Estate maintains a blog and a YouTube channel that help users sift through the finer points of home buying. The website also includes a free directory with basic information about various construction projects, including the developer, subcontractor(s), design engineers, building owner, and more. This information can be found by entering the name of a specific property, or by choosing the name of a city, which will then display the properties in the area and the information available on them. However, 65% of the website’s traffic comes from users conducting automated checks of new housing construction projects based on data from the state registers.

“After seeing the full and transparent picture of a new housing construction project, the designated purpose of land, any liens or encumbrances, licenses of subcontractors, and litigation, many of our clients change their minds about a developer. This [information] often plays a major role when it comes to making a decision as to which property to invest in,” says Kopot.

Monitor.Estate is available for major cities in Ukraine including Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Dnipro, as well as the smaller cities of Drohobych, Zhytomyr, and new construction in the Kyiv region. Its new construction background check service is currently integrated with several major housing search services, such as DOM.RIA, that offer information about developers and provide legal services in this field. Monitor.Estate also collaborates with journalists free of charge, helping them to access data on problematic construction projects and conduct investigations that include ratings, useful tips, and common problems related to the development of new housing construction projects.

On January 11, 2021, the Monitor.Estate team released a new service, which performs background checks on second-hand properties. It takes just 10 seconds and UAH 49 (approximately $1.50) to check the legal history of a secondary housing building, including information such as its owner, the property type (residential or non-residential), involvement in lawsuits, and more. Within just two days of launch, 150 people used the service.

As a trend-setter in the field of real estate legal audits, Monitor.Estate has witnessed the rise of a capable competitor, Dabibot, that provides similar services. But Kopot isn’t afraid of a little competition. He welcomes the increased utilization of open data in the construction sector. According to Kopot and others, as these types of services gain traction and citizens’ awareness of them grows, more Ukrainians will keep their savings out of the hands of fraudulent developers, promoting fair competition and transparency in the construction market.