A home search wish for 2009: Let's get visual!

To properly merchandise a listing, one should:

A. Park a 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass on the front lawn

B. Arrange a “Beeramid” on the kitchen table

C. Post blurry, poorly composed photos of the property on the web

For sooooo long, otherwise intelligent agents have failed to understand the necessity of properly merchandising a listing online. They’ll obsess on curb appeal, but drop the ball on screen appeal.

But I am seeing signs of hope. Most luxury brokers have set standards for the number, size and quality of listing photos for a long time, but now I’m seeing this more and more in mid-market organizations. My informal sampling of listing sites the past few months reveals a noticeable improvement.

I think the down market is forcing brokers and agents to sharpen their game. And listings sites are moving in response. Yahoo! Real Estate announced a redesign with larger images a couple weeks ago. Realtor.com and the new HomesDatabase.com from MRIS offer “gallery” search results views that take users well beyond the traditional thumbnail.

But more interesting are the possibilities for fully “visualizing” home search. Trulia dabbled here last year with its release of Trulia Snapshot, but this felt more like an experiment than a full-fledged attempt to alter the search paradigm.

The best example of visual search right now is searchme, a site I’ve written about before. I believe we’ll see this applied to home search in 2009 – perhaps as a “featured listings” component on one of the major listings sites.

Even more interesting is Cooliris, a browser plugin that allows you to search images on hundreds of sites, including Google, in something approximating 3-D. It’s stunning and, unlike so many new web apps, actually works as promised. Download it and you’ll see the possibilities for real estate.

I’d like to see Cooliris index some real estate sites. But what I’d really like is for one of the players in our category to take a flyer on something like this — to overlay listings specs on photos the user can scan. In this way, all the most important stuff — location, price and a visual of the home — are easily digested at a glance.

It would be consumer a facing differentiator and could offer a unique up-sell opportunity for ad-based sites. It would also raise the bar for those just beginning to understand that crappy listing photos just don’t cut it.

Do you see the value here?

Brian Boero