A new Web site that promises to help house hunters locate neighborhoods and listings that best fit their lifestyle and income won’t always turn up their dream home, but it might open their eyes to new possibilities.
The "neighborhood matchmaker" site, hoodeo — launched today by eppraisal.com parent company Saris Technologies Inc. — asks users for demographic information including age, income, education and line of work.
That information is combined with a few personal preferences (Are you looking for a kid-friendly area? Rather live where you can enjoy nature, or in a big city?) and queried against a database to generate a list of 10 ZIP codes. Users can then browse listings in each ZIP code provided by Trulia through a hoodeo-branded publisher platform site.
For the moment, hoodeo can’t distinguish neighborhoods within ZIP codes, and the questions it asks are too general to resolve issues of taste.
Would you prefer a hip but gritty live-work loft, or do you want to live in a gated community with a swimming pool? Would you consider a major league baseball stadium or a shopping mall two blocks down the street to be a plus or a minus? Hoodeo doesn’t ask.
But the site still claims to turn the house-hunting process on end. Instead of letting listings they stumble upon determine the neighborhood they end up in, hoodeo invites users to find their ideal ZIP code first, and then look at homes.
"We’ve had the data for years, but only just recently realized we could apply different sets of algorithms to come up with top ZIP codes" that match a user’s lifestyle and demographics, eppraisal.com President Damian Scott said. "We couldn’t find any other sites out there that did this."
Scott said much of the demographic information used to identify "a great neighborhood" comes from the Census bureau and eppraisal’s marketing partners.
In the future, hoodeo will allow users to connect with real estate professionals and contribute neighborhood and community information. For now, the site links to Wikipedia for descriptions of the communities it identifies.
So how well does hoodeo work?
A test of two queries from opposite ends of the demographic spectrum by hypothetical residents of the Oakland, Calif., ZIP code 94610, looking for ideal neighborhoods nearby, produced mixed results.
In the first test, hoodeo was presented with an under-25 service industry worker with some college, earning $10,000 to $30,000 a year, and looking for a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home in a large city within the Oakland metropolitan statistical area in the $125,000 to $250,000 range.
Hoodeo identified eight properties in 10 ZIP codes, none of them in Oakland. The neighborhood identified by hoodeo as the best fit for this query was in the next county over — Richmond, Calif.’s 94804 ZIP code.
Clicking on the link hoodeo provides to the Wikipedia entry for Richmond, the house hunter might learn the following about the community in Contra Costa County: "The city has in recent years suffered from a high crime rate, so serious that the city council at one point requested a declaration of a state of emergency and asked for the intervention of the Contra Costa County Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol in order to ameliorate crime waves."
Richmond’s murder, vehicle theft and larceny rates are all high, the entry continues "although they tend to be concentrated in certain areas such as the Iron Triangle and areas surrounding adjacent unincorporated North Richmond, which is outside the jurisdiction of the Richmond Police Department."
The Richmond Police Department maintains a Web site that allows users to see where incidents have been reported within a mile of a property in the last 90 days. The site showed 93 incidents near one of the properties recommended by hoodeo, a $165,000 condo on Marina Lakes Drive. The incidents included 11 reports of assault or battery, 10 auto thefts, eight burglaries, three robberies, eight incidents involving drugs and seven involving weapons.
Scott said that searching for properties at a low price point — there are few homes available for less than $250,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area — will often produce listings "in some rough areas. There’s nothing we can do about that — that’s the data. The algorithm is working as designed."
Allowing users to contribute information on individual communities will supplement the information now provided by Wikipedia, he said.
Richmond also turned up as one of the top 10 ZIP codes in a second hoodeo query for another hypothetical Oakland, Calif., resident with an advanced degree and a career in management searching for a three-bedroom home in the $500,000 to $1 million range in a family-friendly area.
The Richmond Police Department showed 125 incidents in the last 90 days within one mile of one of the listings hoodeo returned for that query — a $550,000 home on Van Fleet Avenue — including 29 auto thefts and 39 burglaries.
Although hoodeo does not take crime statistics into account in its neighborhood rankings, it would also have been of limited use in both queries if the hypothetical users had been looking for an ideal neighborhood near their existing home, workplace, or children’s school.
None of the top 10 ZIP codes recommended in either search were in Oakland. In the second query, seven of the 10 ZIP codes were located in three communities south of Oakland: Hayward, Fremont and Newark. In the top ZIP code identified by hoodeo in the second query, Hayward’s 94541, the site returned eight properties ranging in price from $515,000 to $629,000.
Scott said that while there has been discussion about whether to allow users to search a more narrowly defined geographic area, there are plenty of other sites that can perform that task, which would only "take away from what we designed the application to do."
The site could ask users more questions about their preferences to generate more nuanced results, but that might also try their patience, he said. Hoodeo asks users for information in 10 information fields to generate a list of ZIP codes.
"We’re trying to make it (specific) enough to be useful, but … the initial form had too many questions, and we had to back away," Scott said.
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