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What’s “natural” for real estate search?

Jan 14, 2009 Michael Wurzer

Coming out of Inman last week, there are several people talking about “natural language search” for real estate, presumably based on MRIS’s new consumer-facing web site with this search format.  The idea is simple: we all search Google, Yahoo! and other sites from a single text box, so why shouldn’t that same approach work for real estate?

Answer:  Because it doesn’t have to!  The reason Google and Yahoo! search the way they do is that they’re organizing unstructured data.  If the data is structured, providing the consumer search options in that structure is much easier for them.

Need proof?  Look at the way Google designed their real estate search, structuring elements like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, and area:

Of course, providing non-abbreviated search terms and searching remarks and other unstructured data is important, and MLSs could do a better job of that, but the idea that users want to type in things like 3-4 bedrooms, 3000-4000 square feet, etc., rather than using structured controls, seems to me to be making something that already is easy more complex.  What do you think is natural for real estate search?