I recently had an instant message chat with a friend about one of her eventful — and entertaining — adventures in Internet dating. She suspected her date had been a classmate of mine in school, but I didn’t recognize his name, so as we chatted I did some Internet investigating.
At one point during her hilarious retelling of the evening’s events, my search results prompted me to interject, "Uh, did you Google this guy before your date?"
"No," she replied quickly, before saying much more slowly and with rapidly increasing dread, "Whyyyyyyyyy?"
The next moment was one of those scenes that would have been marked by a long, jagged record screech in the movies. "Excuse me?" I typed manically. "You got into someone’s car without Googling them first???!!! That’s just not safe." I went on.
She thought I was joking, but my knee-jerk reaction on this point is actually a symptom of a syndrome with which I’ve been afflicted for a few years now. I call it my "Google tic."
That just means that I have the uncontrollable urge to Google, well, almost any and everything.
It started in my work, writing and creating digital content. But it’s gotten to the point that I Google every person I meet, am about to meet, or have recently met, every question that comes to mind or debate that comes up.
In fact, tapping into my Google history, I find recent searches for how old Clint Eastwood is; what it means if you keep getting shin splints; the last three medications and supplements that were prescribed and recommended to those close to me; how to tell if someone’s really a jerk or just insecure; and the origins of almond milk.
I’m nearly equally captivated by other people’s online search behavior. When I type my questions into the search bar, often I’ll leave the last few words off, just to see what Google auto-populates into the form, as a peek inside what other searchers are looking for. The mix of highbrow and lowbrow things about which today’s inquiring minds want to know is pretty entertaining.
Typing "how do you know if" is auto-completed with "a guy likes you?" and "a girl likes you?" But to end the question "how do you know whether …" Google suggests alternatives like "whether an image is copyrighted?" "a function is even or odd?" and "an inequality has no solution?"
Unfortunately, not enough of the online search-obsessed are in the market for a home or a solution to a housing issue to get Google to suggest real estate-related subjects for the most common questions people begin typing.
But after many years of living and breathing the stuff of what real estate users care about, I can probably take a guess at what the real estate-related online search obsessions are, and can even categorize them into syndromes in the same vein as my own personal Google tic:
1. The Online House Hunting Tic. These are the folks who are always online, looking at listings, searching for houses — whether they are actually looking for homes or not! (Frankly, this is just an online extension of the behavior symptomized by an obsession with TV shows like "House Hunters" and "House Hunters International" — see a related article at Inman News: "Behind the scenes at ‘House Hunters International.’ ")
And there are several variants on this. Some people just want to know what’s on the market in their neighborhoods and their towns. Others take a more escapist approach, searching for homes in the areas they fantasize about living in, whether or not they actually have any sort of plan on moving. Life would be perfect if …
2. The Open House Tic. This is a hybrid online and offline version of the fixation exhibited by those who get online every Friday and Saturday to prepare their plan of attack for Sunday open houses. This behavior is completely normal and, even, advisable, in actual house hunters — people who are actually in the market to buy a home, or even home sellers who are (wisely) seeking to scope out the competition.
But it takes on a compulsive element when people who have just bought a home, or have no intention of buying a home anytime soon keep open-house hunting as a weekly habit.
To be fair, this goes on the list of relatively harmless vices, except to the extent that it signals or churns up that feeling of constant discontent, that sense that the home you have is never quite enough.
3. Interest Rate OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Chances are good that you know someone who suffers from these symptoms: obsessively checking online mortgage and news sites to see whether mortgage interest rates have gone up or down, often either (a) dropping an email to their mortgage broker afterward to see whether they’ve dropped low enough to warrant a refinance, or (b) freaking entirely out that they locked their interest rate or refinanced too soon to catch the very lowest rates.
Market conditions these last few years have only caused this epidemic to spread, as every time we think rates have gotten about as low as they ever have or ever will, it seems like a new "historic low" benchmark is set the very next week.
4. Amateur Appraiser Syndrome. The advent of home-value estimates on various real estate sites has caused some people to fixate on what the sites say is the value of their home. That’s not that strange, considering that our homes are our biggest assets and that they have taken such a hit in value of late.
However, it becomes a little strange when you leverage these sites to voyeuristic purposes, tackling your Christmas card address list or your friends’ and neighbors’ addresses to figure out what the algorithm says their homes are worth, and why you do or don’t agree with that.
5. Incessant Redecorating Syndrome. Typically, people suffering from Incessant Redecorating Syndrome tend to prowl celebrity home listings and luxury home sites, as well as home decor and furnishing sites, well, incessantly, even if they live in a fully furnished rental or just peeled the stickers off their new furniture at home.
And they often do these searches on their laptops, while watching home remodeling shows on television or flipping through home decor magazines.
It’s a compulsion.
These behaviors, which are actually smart and a great use of technology if you’re readying to make an actual real estate move, can become obsessive and even a distraction from other things you should be doing if you persist at it, allowing it to take up a large amount of your time, even when you have no intention or even the vaguest plan of making a move.