Throwing its weight into another potentially significant realm of electronic commerce, Microsoft Corp. this week unveiled its homebuying Web site, HomeAdvisor.
As Microsoft joins a growing number of companies with real estate listings or financing options on the Internet, it is promoting the processes built into the site for choosing a neighborhood, a home, and mortgage.
"The idea behind HomeAdvisor is to bring it all together and give consumers everything they need to understand homebuying," said Larry Cohen, group product manager for the site.
"It is basically an 'idiot's guide' to buying a home," Mr. Cohen said.
Microsoft is working with three lenders-Principal Residential Mortgage Inc., HomeSide Lending Inc., and American Finance and Investment Inc.-that already participate in rival sites offering loans over the Internet.
Though the site will make referrals to lenders capable of electronically posting loan rates, Microsoft also intends to obtain state broker licenses and accept on-line applications, Mr. Cohen said.
The limited commitment from financial institutions led some competitors to snipe at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant.
"I thought they would have at least as many lenders as Intuit," said Christian Larsen, president of E-Loan in Palo Alto, Calif. The mortgage portion of Intuit Inc.'s Quicken.com Web site, launched in November, has 11 lender-participants.
The start-up fee to Microsoft for inclusion on HomeAdvisor reportedly exceeds $500,000, but at least some lenders see the site as an above- average source of referrals.
"By the time they interact with us," said David C. Everett, vice president of nationwide lending and chief information officer of Principal Residential in Des Moines, "these consumers have more information about their lending options and what they might be interested in."
Microsoft, unlike its competitors, "is clearly attempting to cast a broader net by including neighborhood and home-search information," Mr. Everett said.
With ratings of local schools, crime statistics, demographics, and entries from 14 multiple-listing services, the HomeAdvisor site is designed to be the preferred one-stop choice for Internet homebuying.
Internet-based mortgage lending still lags far behind conventional loan origination channels. Intuit's site generated 20,000 pre-qualification approvals for its lenders through June, eight months into its program.
The same day that Microsoft launched HomeAdvisor, Intuit launched a cobranded mortgage area on America Online.