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Trulia’s new ‘Real Estate Lab’ adds ‘color’ to data

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Do you know what a "pole barn" is? Perhaps you do if you live in or around Grand Rapids, Mich. The phrase is more than 10 times as likely to appear in listing descriptions there than in other markets.

That’s just one of the many curious findings revealed with today’s launch of Trulia’s "Real Estate Lab."

Trulia says the new research arm will deliver "the inside scoop on the psychology and strategy of how consumers and professionals approach real estate," and potentially offer marketing intelligence to real estate agents looking to paint their listings in the most desirable light.

"It can help agents figure out in their local market what are the types of features that matter locally," said Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist.

In San Francisco, for example, real estate agents have apparently determined that buyers care very much about proximity to Whole Foods, he said. If agents are correct about Whole Foods’ appeal to consumers, it might be worth deploying the phrase in listing descriptions whenever possible.  

By combing through millions of listings, Trulia’s Real Estate Lab will seek to uncover trends which are challenging to spot through quantitative analysis. Such research provides a "much richer view of what’s going in the local housing market than just price trends and easy-to-quantify data," both at the local and national level, Kolko said.

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The debut of the Real Estate Lab appears to mark the latest push by a listing portal to harvest qualitative information, often referred to as "color," on specific housing markets in order to paint more nuanced portraits of on-the-ground conditions for consumers.


Trulia's Real Estate Lab found that the terms 'parlor floor,' 'formal gardens,' 'paneled library,' 'magnificent estate,' and 'lutron lighting' were those most associated with luxury properties.

RealtyTrac, for example, launched a brokerage network last week that it will use to unmask "tribal" knowledge of local markets.

In an analysis that looked at the frequency with which phrases appear in descriptions of listings across the country, Trulia’s Real Estate Lab found that the terms "parlor floor," "formal gardens," "paneled library," "magnificent estate," and "lutron lighting" were those most associated with luxury properties. The average price of a listing that uses the phrase "parlor floor" was $4.936 million, according to Trulia.

The same study found that "minimum commission applies," "lead based paint notices," "mold-like substance," "defective paint" and "city inspection" are associated with the cheapest listings. The average listing price of "minimum commission applies" was about $28,000.

"Some of these aren’t exactly selling points," Kolko noted.

He added that, on average, you could buy 60 "cute little bungalows" (which is the sixth-most common phrase to appear in cheap listings), for every "magnificent estate," whose average listing price is about $3.65 million.

In an analysis with a more local slant, Trulia uncovered a number of phrases that are more than 10 times as likely to surface in the listings of one particular market as they are in others.

It found that "lanai" and Honolulu, "mirrored close doors" and Ventura and Orange Counties in California, "pole barn" and Grand Rapids, Mich., "Roman tub" and West Palm Beach, Fla. and "solar screen" and Fort Worth, Texas are linked in that manner.

Kolko said Trulia intends to use its Real Estate Lab primarily to glean color about local housing markets and educate its consumers with its findings. The unit’s analytical capabilities will also win the listing portal more media exposure by enabling it to churn out data on request for reporters, he added. 

The Real Estate Lab is one example of vehicles listing portas are creating in an effort to offer market insight that transcends numerical data.

RealtyTrac, for instance, recently revealed that it’s pursuing this goal. But it’s approaching the task from a different angle: by partnering with brokerages to obtain color based on anecdotal feedback from real estate agents.  

For now, Trulia said it doesn’t have plans to convert its analyses into a product that it could sell to real estate agents. But Kolko didn’t rule it out as a possibility, and said there "may be other things" it could do with its research in the future.  

Asked about future projects of Trulia’s Real Estate Lab, Kolko said his team may attempt to identify phrases associated with listings that have longer and shorter shelf lives, and also decipher how phrases may carry different meanings in different markets.  

"Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity might mean something very different when it appears in Los Angeles than when it appears in Detroit," he said. 

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