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Why the term “search” needs to be reexamined, retired in its current context

The term “search” in real estate has changed over the years, and it’s time to take a look at how it is used, and exactly how it defines the profession.


Don’t we need a new word for the word “search?” In the real estate industry, it is a pesky little word. Whole peripheral industries are centered around it. Agents used to do it, now most do not. “I’ll search for homes for you and email/drop off/drip/snail mail/carrier pigeon them to you” was the former mantra.

Nope. Now we leave “search” to our clients. Why is that? Because of course buyers (or sellers who are buying after selling) know what they want. They know what they are looking for. They know… but wait…

Do they?

Defining the word “search”

Let’s look at a few things that define “search.” From The Google’s first response to “definition of search” comes:

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1. Try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
“I searched among the rocks, but there was nothing”
Synonyms: hunt (for), look for, seek, forage for, fish around/about for, look high and low for, ferret around/about for, root around/about for, rummage around/about for, cast around/about for More

2. Examine (a place, vehicle, or person) thoroughly in order to find something or someone.
“He searched every room in the house”
Synonyms: look through, hunt through, explore, scour, rifle through, go through, sift through, comb, go through with a fine-tooth comb; turn upside down, turn inside out, leave no stone unturned

3. Examine, inspect, check, frisk.
“The guards searched him for weapons”
Look for information in (a database or the World Wide Web) using a search engine.

1. An act of searching for someone or something.
“The police carried out a thorough search of the premises.”
Synonyms: hunt, look, quest; pursuit, manhunt

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2. Searching for, hunting for, seeking, looking for, on the lookout for, in pursuit of
“The police continued their search”
“They say they are in search of a silver flask with the monogram ‘DLR’”

3. An act or instance of searching a database or the World Wide Web.
“Time-consuming searches of the Internet”
– Computing: the systematic retrieval of information, or the facility for this.
– Law: an investigation of public records to find if a property is subject to any liabilities or encumbrances.

Agents shouldn’t rely on search so heavily

Search. If done simply as a “hey lookie here at them thar pictures, ain’t that house wunnerful?!” type of search, then no, agents should not make “search” their be-all and end-all reason for clients to hire them. However “search” is not as benign an activity that it once appeared to be.

Today, buyers can search for properties via a number of online aggregators, and the major players at this date are Zillow, Trulia, and, according to most reports. However, sites such as,, agent sites with IDX feeds, brokerage sites with IDX feeds and more exist to either satiate the market or satisfy supposed buyer search needs.

Further, what are buyers searching for when they click to open a site and start perusing the data they find there? Most buyers I speak with talk about décor, updates, the “Zestimate” if on Zillow, some talk about taxes and why they are as high as they are.

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No buyers I know search city and county records for stuff that’s buried or out of the realm of the everyday buyer. Some cities (like my own, Dayton, OH) have code violations for properties listed on their web site. Some cities have pre-sale or pre-occupancy inspections. Some cities do not permit work/live space. And some do not permit fencing around the lot’s perimeter. Other searches not usually in the realm of buyers can include listing history, picture history, days on market, what’s on the (in some states required) Residential Property Disclosure (a 5-page document in Ohio that reveals defects that have or have not been fixed), whether or not a home is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or HUD or or or…. The list goes on and on.

So if buyers don’t care, who does?

If buyers are not searching for these things, who is? The search savvy agent. The agent who asks questions of the buyers. How will the home be used? What about having more than one living space vs just a living room – do you need an office? Will you want to build a backyard outbuilding that can be used as an office? Will you have work meetings at home where cars parked on the street may irritate neighbors weekly or – daily? How do you feel about having a pre-occupancy inspection done by the city? Oh that is too invasive? Or does it protect the neighborhood via its standards?

“Search” is too mild of a word for the service agents perform in their representation of and protection of clients. Perhaps we should develop a new word.

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Written By

Landis is involved in consulting for and sales of residential and commercial real estate. Landis is also working on obtaining her Ohio real estate broker license. College educated with a business, sales and performing arts background, Landis brings a well rounded world view to her real estate practice.


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