Technology

Show me homes near surf spots and Google buses, please

New RealScout listing filters point towards future of real estate search

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Picture an environmentalist who fancies herself an intellectual, yet somehow makes enough that she can afford a wide range of New York City apartments.

On the hunt for a new home, she’d like to pinpoint listings within a quarter mile of a dog park, farmers market, local coffee shop (Starbucks doesn’t count!), book store and bike-share station.

That may seem like a tall order, but buyers may soon come to expect that real estate sites will offer “lifestyle search.” RealScout, the provider of a search platform that lets agents collaborate with clients, is the latest company to unveil such capabilities.

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GIF showing a RealScout search that relies on the company’s new filters. Dark blue markers indicate the listings that most closely match a user’s filter settings. 

RealScout’s new search filters let subscribers curate filters to build a search experience around a client’s preferences, and provide “this really localized, personal home search experience that’s a lot different from what you’d find on a national portal, which is pretty generic,” said CEO Andrew Flachner.

The Mountain View, California-based startup powers search platforms for agents in California and Washington that bear the branding of both the subscriber and RealScout.

A growing number of companies, including Walk Score and fypio, offer consumers the ability to discover homes that closely match their lifestyle preferences.

But RealScout’s new batch of filters, which the company is rolling out this week, stand out for their local focus. The “#NorCalDreamin” filter set, for example, caters to Northern Californians. Users can hone in on homes that are close to things, including Google Shuttle stops, Philz Coffee Shop (a California coffee chain), surfing spots, Whole Foods, historic missions and wineries.

So as not to exclude some listings altogether, RealScout highlights properties that most closely match a user’s filter settings in dark blue. Other listings that don’t jibe as well with a person’s search preferences appear in lighter shades of blue.

RealScout is also experimenting with filters to help buyers steer clear of “disamenities.”

Some common examples of disamenities include crime, sex offenders and former drug labs — information that is increasingly common on real estate search sites.

RealScout isn’t turning any of those into filters yet, but the company is working on “negative tags” that are highly local in nature. RealScout subscribers can add a filter that’ll let clients pinpoint listings that are a comfortable distance from airport flight paths, for example.

“Our team has studied the flight patterns of airports nearby, and we have created these irregular polygons to deprioritize properties that are under a flight pattern,” Flachner said.

RealScout is also developing the negative tags “near active landfill” and “earthquake fault zone.” Others it could potentially add in the future might include proximity to freeway exits and oil refineries, Flachner said.

The logical endpoint of the trajectory that real estate search seems to be traveling along is an experience that lets consumers perform one-of-a-kind queries — searches that no one else has or may ever conduct.

RealScout has considered taking a step in that direction by offering its subscribers the ability to request customized search options. Should an agent ask for a search filter, like proximity to Home Depot,  it would be fairly easy to build into the agent’s search platform, Flachner said.

Just last week, URBAN4M debuted data sets that could allow listing sites to highlight listings based on their location’s safety, school quality, demographic composition, and proximity to businesses and public transit.

Few individual buyers would shun tools that make it easy to weed out homes that don’t seem to be good fits.

But a future where every buyer is presented at the outset of their search with the option to dismiss properties in areas with lackluster schools and elevated crime rates might aggravate the social and economic divides between communities and undermine the spirit of fair housing laws.

Editor’s note: The story has also been updated to correct that RealScout is not working on adding search filters that help buyers avoid properties in locations with high crime, sex offenders and former drug labs.

This story has been updated to note that RealScout highlights listings that meet a user’s filter settings in dark blue. Listings that don’t mesh as well with a person’s search preferences appear in lighter shades of blue.