Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., which servers the Greater Washington, D.C., region as the nation’s largest multiple listing service, today announced the launch of its revamped public-facing Web site, HomesDatabase.com, in beta.

The retooled site features keyword and natural language search capabilities, side-by-side property comparison tools and automatically generated suggestions of similar properties based on a user’s search queries, among other enhancements.

Jonathan Hill, vice president of business development for MRIS, said the site is expected to operate in beta for a couple of months before becoming the default site.

"It gives us a chance to make some final tweaks to the site," he said, and MRIS is planning to launch a major marketing campaign for the new site in first-quarter 2009 that will include radio, newspaper and online advertising.

The MLS has already promoted the new site tools to its participants using a comic book character dubbed "Mr. Is," a play on the MRIS acronym.

Hill said that consumer focus groups were helpful in testing out new features at the site, and these testers also reviewed other real estate search sites. The streamlined design won points with the test audience, he said. "It’s simple, it’s clean, there are no pop-up ads — nothing to distract you from what’s on the site."

The MLS has hopes of capitalizing on its investment in the new search platform, and announced plans to make the platform available for other MLS organizations to use in their market areas.

Users can view property-search results as a "list view," which features a sortable list of thumbnail images, basic property details, brokerage company names and a link to more detailed information.

Alternately, users can also choose "map view" to view home icons on an interactive map and see an encapsulated list of property details, and they can select "gallery view" to see larger images for listings that match their search criteria. The map view continuously updates the display of matching for-sale properties as users scroll to other areas on the interactive map screen.

A "refine" menu allows users to choose "must haves" such as a fireplace, swimming pool or garage, and to also select preferred home type (such as duplex, bed and breakfast, dwelling with rental, townhouse, etc.), style (bungalow, cabin, art deco, etc.), age, and type of heating and cooling systems.

Users can click on an "I Like It!" button to save properties and click on a box to compare properties.

Properties can be sorted at various areas of the site by price, city, lot size, distance from map center and the time period in which they were added to the site, as examples.

On the details page for individual properties, users can view a list of the selling prices of comparable properties — the data is provided by the Cyberhomes.com site.

The site also offers a tool to find upcoming open-house events, and to sign up for notifications about open houses and newly listed properties. Uses can also choose to receive automated RSS (really simple syndication) feeds for properties.

MRIS launched the original HomesDatabase.com site in March 1999, and Hill said the site recently recorded about 900,000 monthly viewers.

Hill said the new site is ultimately intended to assist the MLS’s participants, "We’re trying to show our customers, our agents and brokers, the value of the traffic that is coming through the site" and to direct consumers to participants’ sites.

"It’s up to the broker and agent to then capture some more information (from consumers) and start a conversation with (those) prospective buyers," Hill said.

***

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