Hacker Connect January 16 in New York
An event for and by the real estate tech community

National real estate search sites are giving homebuyers who have fallen in love with a particular neighborhood the ability to type the neighborhood’s name into a search box and see the properties for sale there.

Go to Realtor.com, Trulia or Zillow, and type in "German Village, Columbus, Ohio." You’ll not only see the homes that are for sale there, but Trulia and Zillow display the names of hundreds of other neighborhoods on an interactive map of the city, and make it easy to build searches around those neighborhoods.

If consumers are coming to expect such neighborhood-search capabilities, they are likely to be disappointed by many property-search websites — including some operated by national franchisors, big-name brokerages and multiple listing services (MLSs).

Most will allow users to search by ZIP code, and some can also show properties for sale within a school district. But those are usually larger geographic areas that are likely to contain several neighborhoods.

It’s often possible to enter a street name without an address in order to see what’s for sale on a particular street, but that’s not the most efficient way to find a home in a particular neighborhood. Neighborhoods typically have dozens of streets, and a given street may run through many neighborhoods or even cities and counties.

Map-based radius searches — which allow users to search for listings within a certain distance of a location — may pull in results from several neighborhoods with quite different characteristics.

Neighborhoods are the lingua franca of real estate agents and consumers — a classification system that condenses a wealth of information about home prices, property types, demographics, proximity to schools and other amenities into a single, easy to remember term.

To those who are already familiar with it, a neighborhood name conjures up more than just statistics — it’s an image of a place and the people who live there.

For homebuyers relocating to a new city, neighborhoods are a way of breaking down what might otherwise be an overwhelming set of choices into more manageable subsets.

Describe your dream home to a friend or a real estate agent who knows the city you want to live in, and chances are they will be able to rattle off the names of the neighborhoods you’d be most interested in.

"If you are in a coffee shop in San Francisco, and you tell a person, ‘Here is who I am,’ they will say, ‘You should look in Russian Hill, or the Mission District,’ " said Mark Friend, vice president of sales and marketing for Maponics, which builds and licenses neighborhood boundary datasets used by Google, Trulia, ZipRealty, Roost and others.

"People love our neighborhood search," said Ken Shuman, a spokesman for Trulia. "The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive."

Shuman said Trulia implemented a major expansion of its neighborhood search capabilities last year — a project it wouldn’t have embarked upon unless it was popular with consumers.

Trulia lets users type a neighborhood’s name directly into a search box — a fast way to pull up results if they already know the name of the neighborhood they are interested in — or click on "more neighborhood options" if they don’t.

Moving a mouse cursor over a map of the city reveals the names of any of 294 neighborhoods defined for Columbus, like the Olentangy neighborhood on the city’s north side — not to be confused with Olentangy Commons, Olentangy Glade, or Olentangy High Bluffs.

Zillow has similar capabilities, with boundaries for 278 neighborhoods in Columbus. Realtor.com allows keyword searches by neighborhood but lacks interactive map tools for discovering neighborhood names and tailoring search results.

A Trulia.com screenshot shows homes for sale in Columbus, Ohio’s German Village neighborhood.

"Brick and mortar" sites lag

Traditional "brick and mortar" companies such as brokerages and MLSs "are ceding the market to other players" by not implementing neighborhood search, Friend said. "Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com — those companies have moved in and taken advantage of what people want."

While Maponics obviously has a vested interest in seeing more widespread adoption of neighborhood-based search capabilities, real estate technology consultant Brian Boero agrees that they are useful tools for consumers.

Boero — whose firm, 1000Watt Consulting, helps real estate companies get the most out of the Web — said it’s not just the cost of providing neighborhood search that’s standing in the way of adoption. …CONTINUED