“Fun” isn’t at all how Homestore CEO Mike Long would describe his job of keeping the online real estate company alive through a couple of rough years in the wake of its legacy accounting scandal. And he doesn’t fish for compliments on a job well done.

“It’s been more gratifying than fun,” he said yesterday after the company announced its first-quarter financial results.

Although Homestore’s record has improved on Long’s watch, the company Thursday reported another unprofitable quarter. That result prompted some investors to wonder whether the company’s business model should be altered to encompass lead referral fees.

Tell us when you think Homestore will make a profit.

Realtor.com, the huge for-sale homes Web site that Homestore operates for the National Association of Realtors, must comply with certain restrictions that NAR put in place some years ago. Long said the company would consider business model changes if NAR and its Realtor members wanted to initiate such changes in the way the company charges Realtors for online products and services.

“Whether changes that would come as a result of the industry wanting to extend Realtor.com in ways it’s not currently being used, if that’s what they want, we will consider it as long as we feel we can deliver that service,” Long said.

Long dropped some hints as to how the company will compete with lead referral models, which Realtor.com President Allan Dalton has called a “tariff” on the realty commission, and more specifically with media mogul Barry Diller’s plan to pump $100 million into LendingTree’s find-a-realty broker service.

LendingTree, a unit of InterActive Corp., is an online lending and real estate services exchange that matches consumers with mortgage lenders and real estate agents. The company charges 35 percent of the agent’s commission in exchange for the online sales lead.

That’s an “expensive” product, in Long’s view.

“If the industry finds that model acceptable, it creates some interesting price points in the value of online marketing and advertising,” he said.

The Homestore CEO believes that LendingTree’s business model is unaffordable for realty agents and that that puts Homestore in a good position to compete for those marketing dollars.

Long said he worries about competition from any source, but welcomes Diller into the real estate space. He believes the new business models entering the industry will drive growth at Homestore by increasing awareness of its products and services.

“You’re always better-served competing against serious companies that are in the business to make money,” Long said.

Homestore this year will concentrate much of its product growth efforts on its HomeBuilder.com Web site, online rental guide RentNet.com and Welcome Wagon print segment. The company has no plans to announce any major product releases for Realtor.com, Long said.

Long took over the head seat at Homestore in January 2002. He was named to that position after an impressive career that included stints as president and CEO of The Continuum Co., CEO of Healtheon Corp. and chairman of WebMD after its merger with Healtheon.

Under his direction, Homestore has dealt with hefty shareholder lawsuits, a major corporate downsizing, and a series of quarterly losses. The Westlake Village, Calif.-based company has yet to earn a profit, but has managed consistent improvement in its financial results and has brought its stock back from the brink of being delisted from Nasdaq.

“We can’t afford to fail. So far, we haven’t,” Long said.

The company yesterday reported a net loss of $5 million in the first quarter, an improvement from its $12 million loss the previous quarter. Quarterly revenue in the current period was $56.1 million.

Homestore shares (Nasdaq: HOMS) traded at $4.39 a share this morning, down 7 percent from Thursday’s closing price of $4.73.

Send tips or feedback to Jessica@inman.com; (510) 658-9252, ext.133.

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