Is there room for social in real estate search?

Go to any of the real estate websites in the Hitwise Top 10. It’s a pretty solitary experience.

Starkly laid out listings. No humanity – just beds, baths and square feet. Seems out of sorts with our real world, where homes are filled with families, friends and neighbors. People.

We’re embarking on a major project right now and as we move through the discovery phase of this project, we’ve been asking ourselves this question a lot:

What role could social play inside of real estate search?

To date, social integration in real estate has been pretty flavorless. Frontdoor and Trulia have integrated Facebook Connect, but that basically smoothes over the account creation process. Zillow allows you to share homes on Facebook. But we’re thinking more broadly than that.

Rolling out the mat

Bing announced today it has integrated Facebook “likes” more deeply into its search results.

On the one hand, we’ve argued with each other, real estate search differs from other online searches. Normal people — that is, folks not like us, who don’t obsess over a category as narrow as online real estate — are either engaged in a real home search or they’re not. So, unlike a query for “Napa B&Bs”, the chances are that I’d see a “like” from my extended social graph on my search results page seems highly unlikely.

Aggregated “likes”, on the other hand – i.e. those not tied to individuals – become more intriguing. Most “liked”. Most shared. Filtering by the number of “likes”. The possibilities to enhance a search results page with this kind of social data do seem engaging. Alone, each “like” is a small signal of intent that when bubbled up to the surface they could become truly meaningful to the masses.

We’ve also discussed “likes” that are shared amongst small, tightly focused groups – and this seems like a much richer playground. Setting up a small home search posse inside of Facebook, which you then bring into a search experience feels, well… right. Facebook’s Groups API seems poised to make this happen.

After many years of only incremental improvement, we seem to be on the cusp of a new wave of innovation around search focused on social that seems far more interesting than a map. We hear rumblings from many of the players that they are thinking along these lines too. It just remains to be seen who steps out on the mat first.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts too. How do you think social could play into real estate search?

Is there a way we make the online search experience a little less lonely?