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RISMEDIA, November 6, 2010—Consumers have been searching for homes based on lifestyle for many years. But with the growing trend of prospective buyers looking to the Internet to begin their home search, it is crucial that we get back to the basics when considering lifestyle search and how it best relates to the Internet. Here, Scott Petronis, senior director or product management at Onboard Informatics, discusses how his company is streamlining the home-search process by allowing consumers to select what’s important to them from the beginning.

Scott Petronis
Senior Director of Product Management
Onboard Informatics

Best Places to Live. Best Places to Retire. Best Places to Raise Families. Most of us have, at some point, been intrigued by these articles, and have likely incorporated these rankings into marketing messages, adding value and credibility to towns that you represent; and often readers of these articles want to know, “Where’s my best place to live?”

Let’s face it: home searchers have been searching based on lifestyle for many, many years, except in person with real estate professionals who know what questions to ask. The problem is actually a more recent phenomenon brought on by the fact that now 90% or more of home searches start online.

The challenge today is that nearly all IDX searches force consumers to think in the way a database performs queries. But the average person doesn’t think remotely like that—nor does the average real estate professional. They think in terms of wants, needs and desires. Not minimum price, maximum price, beds greater than or equal to four and baths between 1.5 and 2.5.

Moreover, by not fitting search into a more “human-centered” model, it forces the consumer to go from site to site in order to find the details they really need to make a decision. They are faced with thoughts such as, “Wow, this house looks great! Oh wait, the area it’s in doesn’t really have what I’m looking for. Guess I’ll search again.” Or, worse, yet, “Maybe I’ll go somewhere else to search.”

So now companies, such as Onboard Informatics, have turned around the search experience, offering real estate companies the opportunity to position customized lifestyle search criteria up front, maintaining the credibility of their branding. How far of a commute are you willing to accept? How close do you want to be to restaurants, shopping and everyday conveniences? Do you want to live near others with families or do you want to be in a trendy and fun area with lots of night life? The searcher is able to eliminate areas that don’t appeal to them before getting led down the wrong path. Then, when they see the areas that match their needs, they can immediately search for listings in those areas that already fit their lifestyle.

The goal was to streamline the online home-search process, allowing users to select what’s important to them first, narrowing down the best areas for them individually. Of course, it’s ultimately about making sure that the consumer is engaged, stays on the site and ultimately finds the home—and neighborhood—of their dreams.

In reality, we’re getting back to the basics, just using a new medium to do so. Lifestyle search really isn’t new; it’s just new to the Internet.