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Putting Neighborhood Research on the Map

How Trulia Neighborhoods unlocks what locals value in place 

There are plenty of places where prospective home buyers can look at pictures of houses for sale and research prices. Trulia provides photos and prices, but also strives to convey what living in a place is actually like. Knowing that failing to research a neighborhood is one of a new homeowner’s most frequent regrets, Trulia uses local insights to add context about the city and neighborhood to its real estate listings.

As part of their Neighborhoods project, Trulia wanted to understand what it’s actually like to live in specific neighborhoods, as shown and told by area residents.

In beta locations Austin, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois, Trulia conducted dscout Diary studies designed to gather background data, then generate participant entries that show everyday moments in their lives that are related to the neighborhoods where they live. The responses led to surprising insights that helped the company understand how contextual factors shape what people value in a neighborhood.

Vito Loconte, UX Research Manager at Trulia, spoke with dscout Evangelist Ben Wiedmaier about the project, and how Trulia used dscout to better understand how and why house-shoppers chose their neighborhoods. (The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.)

Ben: Can you tell me a little bit about the goals of your UX research team at Trulia?

Vito: We’re a company that really loves, and has, a lot of data. Part of the goal of my team is to understand the “why” behind the “what” by talking with consumers. We’re focused on really understanding what matters to them and how they make decisions.

What brought about the neighborhoods research?

One of the things that we looked at when we were trying to decide on the next big move for Trulia, was, what do people say about us now? Why do they use us today? What are the unmet needs?

The more we talked with users, the more we realized we were onto something with the local data we already had on the site. Things like safety, commute, and neighborhood amenities. But we also realized that even with this data, we weren’t giving them a genuine feel for what it’s like to live in a neighborhood. We also kept hearing the same story about how people scope out neighborhoods to get a feel for it, often saying something like, “You know what I do, I go there at night when everyone’s actually home, because during the day everyone’s at work and I don’t get the real sense of what the place is like.” People really want to understand what a neighborhood is like from the people who live there. We started with that idea and then developed the neighborhood pages as a hub of both objective and subjective information.

People really want to understand what a neighborhood is like from the people who live there.

— Vito Loconte

Why did you choose dscout for this project?

We chose dscout because it allowed us to “go to” these different neighborhoods to collect the data without the additional cost, travel, and time that’s typically involved with ethnographic research. With dscout we were able to get out of our own backyard but still move quickly on this phase of the research.

In the end, we recruited 50 scouts to tell us the story of how they chose their neighborhood and what matters to them in a neighborhood. We also had them give us a photo and video tour of the neighborhood and talk about why the things they chose to focus on mattered to them. dscout allowed us to drill deep and find location-specific information so that we can understand not just facts, but context, too.

dscout allowed us to drill deep and find location-specific information so that we can understand not just facts, but context, too.

— Vito Loconte

What did you learn? How did the study affect your plans for the neighborhood pages?

From the research, we created a set of design principles for designing the neighborhood pages. We really learned a lot about how people make decisions about where to move and what matters to them in a neighborhood. For example, we were originally thinking about a map that just showed the amenities (grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.) that are within that neighborhood. But, we quickly learned through dscout that people move to a neighborhood not just based on what’s in that neighborhood, but also what’s around that neighborhood.

There was one really big trend that we noticed in Austin specifically. Everyone made a reference to downtown. When we asked people to tell us a story of how they decided to move to their neighborhood, so many of them started with “It’s as close as we could get to downtown, but still have blank.” “It’s as close as we could get to downtown but without all the noise. As close as I could get to downtown but still have a car.” It was really interesting to see that trend.

During the data analysis, the team joked around about the three things that really matter to people in Austin: How close am I to downtown? How close is the nearest swimming pool? And where is the nearest breakfast taco? That got us thinking about how these neighborhood pages might change from metro to metro. For example, the three facts that matter in Austin. What if we put the answers to those questions on all of the Austin neighborhood pages? Does that make it easier for people to connect, and understand a little bit more about the people who live there and what matters to them?

Another thing we learned is that the city has a big part in shaping what matters. In places outside Austin that we’ve researched, most recently in Chicago, we didn’t hear that “close to downtown” reference anymore. What we heard in Chicago was more about public transportation, because that affects how far east or west you move and what “L” line you’re on. It actually changed from “Where do you need to go,” to “how will you get there.” There are these different factors that each city brings, and the city shapes that, not just the neighborhood.

I think the videos really made an impact on this project…When we launched into the idea that “it’s not just what’s important to the neighborhood, but it’s how the city shapes those decisions, too,” people had a tangible understanding of what that meant because they had seen it.

— Vito Loconte

It sounds like the diary study really helped you embed with these people to get a sense of place. How well were you able to share what you found with your team?

We tend to inject a lot of quotes, videos and sound bites when we can. I think the videos really made an impact on this project. I strung twelve of those “As close to downtown” video clips together and everyone in the room was laughing. It was funny, but when we launched into the idea that “it’s not just what’s important to the neighborhood, but it’s how the city shapes those decisions, too,” people had a tangible understanding of what that meant because they had seen it.

We’re actually working on kicking off a project with our economic research team to look at different city shapes, and how those might affect some of the ways that we talk about amenities and location-specific differences as we release these enhanced neighborhood pages in more metro areas next year.

Ready to start building your own research project? Sign up for a free dscout account to see what’s possible.

Matt Lardner

A marketer, writer and former journalist, Matt’s obsessed with discovering and telling fascinating stories about people and companies. You’ll find him walking around Chicago with a podcast in his ears.

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