It’s time for Plain Language in Real Estate Property Search

I was reminiscing this weekend about the fun of my childhood which largely centered on Western New York lakes and lake cottages.  It inspired to do some research around Buffalo and neighboring waterfront areas on the Canadian shores as well.  I know the area pretty well, but I was not sure of waterfront home values so I began to do a web search.

After completing the process, it reminded me again that property search still has a long way to go.  When I typed in “waterfront homes for sale in Wilson, New York”, for example, I found nothing of the sort. I was sent to homes for sale in Wilson, New York at, only one of which was a waterfront home.  When I tried “waterfront homes for sale in Wilson, New York”, I also received search results for waterfront homes in Lake Norman, North Carolina, Wilson Pond in New Hampshire and Alabama Real Estate.

One of the search results took me to a local REALTOR’S® site who claims to be expert in waterfront homes in Wilson, New York. The link took me to their home page, not to a featured waterfront listing in Wilson, New York which is what I was looking for. The site included no listings at all which very little mention of waterfront homes in the region.  Several of the other search results took me to agents focused on waterfront property in other regions around the country. Other times the search results took me advertising portals like or  While these search results would usually return at least one home which could be considered waterfront, other non-waterfront homes were also included.

It’s time for online property search to go to the next level. Searches need to be built around the needs of consumers, not technology. As consumers begin to learn that they can type in specific, plain language requests for information, property search needs to evolve to allow them to find exactly what they are looking for. They may be looking for a neighborhood with young children in it. They may want to find towns where you can walk their baby to town for a daily stroll.  They may even want to look for a neighborhood with a terrific natural foods store or even a particular brand like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Sites which incorporate plain language capabilities are going to naturally attract consumers who align well with the unique characteristics of a listing, group of listings, neighborhood or even town or region.  I would love MLS public website providers and IDX vendors across the country significantly enhance the consumer’s ability to conduct real estate searches exactly the way they would like to. In some quick research I ran across a company called which has just launched a new version of plain language search which was built using technologies from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a leading technology think tank based in Palo Alto, California.

Carnegie Mellon also has a significant effort in natural language search through their Language Technologies Institute (LTI)

If you have run across other open source plain language search technologies, please send them our way and we’ll happy to publish them as well.