Choosing a House With Science

By Markets Fool.com


Decisions, decisions. Photo of Hector Berlioz by Pierre Petit. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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When you move to a new city, trying to figure out where to live can quickly turn into an agonizing quagmire. Without any preconceived notions about which neighborhood you like or existing knowledge about where all the grocery stores are, everything you can imagine becomes an issue. Even if you already live somewhere, the sheer amount of information involved in choosing a house can quickly become overwhelming.

So how do you make a decision? The long and short of it is that there is no simple answer. Enter a tool from the nerdy side of marketing: conjoint analysis.

What on earth is conjoint analysis?
Conjoint analysis takes our murky conceptions of what we think we want and turns them into decisions. Then, it takes those decisions and turns them into what behavioral researchers call "revealed preferences."

It works like this: for any decision (like buying a home) there are a number of factors that you might want to take into account. Conjoint analysis puts those factors together into hypothetical packages and asks you to pick between two options. Then, you do this over and over again with different combinations of packages.

What you get at the end (after a nifty bit of programming) is a ranking of your preferences based on "actual" decisions. This often does not look how you would expect.

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For example, one study looked at car purchases and found the following differences in preferences:

What people said they wanted(ranked preferences)

What people actually wanted(preferences adjusted for actual choice)

Dependability

Performance

Exterior styling

All other

Prestige

Dependability

Comfort (tied with prestige)

Exterior styling

Performance (tied with comfort)

Prestige

Obviously "all other" is a pretty broad statement, but just look at the top-weighted factor to get an idea. We might say that what we're looking for is a highly dependable car, but what we really yearn for is power -- and this difference could obviously make or break a marketing campaign.

Remember how Volvo used to really push dependability? Maybe that wasn't such a great idea.

How to do your own conjoint analysis
If you're not fluent in programming (welcome!), you can find applications that will do this for you -- some of them are even free. In looking around for options, I even came across an app that was inspired by the decisions involved in buying a house.

The key lies in picking your variables. We are, as mentioned, sometimes rather blind about this sort of thing, so my advice would be to pick as many as you can think of. The downside is that you have to spend more time choosing between hypotheticals, but the upside is that you might find out that you care a lot more about some particular factor than you ever would have thought.

For example, my variables looked like this:

  • Distance to metro
  • Distance to other public transportation
  • Distance to nearest grocery store/butcher/health store
  • Relative size of windows
  • Square footage
  • Number of bedrooms
  • "Niceness" of finishings/appliances
  • Neighborhood liveliness
  • Distance to cafes
  • Distance to park

That's a lot of variables, but it quickly became apparent that some mattered to me a lot more than others. And the place I ended up choosing was a far cry from what I expected based on my initial idea about my preferences.

So, try it -- whether you're renting or buying, housing can have a huge effect on our lives. Rather get it right than have to move again.

The article Choosing a House With Science originally appeared on Fool.com.

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