When you start shopping for a home, what interests you most: the house itself or the neighborhood in which that house is located?

According to research done by the publicly-traded, 72 percent of consumers are much more interested in a neighborhood than in a specific home. And, 74 percent of consumers said they would give up their dream home in order to live in the neighborhood that best suited their lifestyle.

“Consumers with children prioritize schools 5 to 6 times higher than individual home details,” said Matt Heinz, senior director of marketing for the publicly-traded HouseValues, Inc. (NASDAQ:SOLD). “When we asked people what that meant, the answer was I can remodel the kitchen and re-landscape the backyard, but can’t change quality of schools. But I can’t change how close I am to restaurants, or the fact that I’m just 2 blocks from a park with dog park.”

While the Internet has made shopping for a neighborhood a lot easier over the past decade, it hasn’t been perfect.

You can go online and look for houses and condos, shop for mortgages, check out the demographics of a neighborhood, and then look up shops and services that are close by.

Most of this information is available on independent websites. It’s all there, but you have to spend a long time looking for the information.

This week, HouseValues introduced HomePages.com, a new website combines detailed neighborhood information with searchable aerial imagery and integrated home listings.

What’s HomePages.com like? As I was playing around with the site, it felt a little like Google Maps meeting Realtor.com, with a little SchoolMatch.com thrown in.

“HomePages is the first site to combine dynamic aerial mapping with comprehensive home listings and other local information on a nationwide basis,” said Greg Sterling, program director with The Kelsey Group, a leading provider of strategic research and analysis. “It represents the next generation product that more fully realizes the potential of mapping and local search in a single consumer destination.”

HomePages.com combines community demographics, crime statistics, school district details, as well as information about parks, recreational opportunities, local amenities and services. You can also look up all of the homes that are available for sale in a particular area.

All of this is set visually on a map of the neighborhood.

If you plot a house, you can also scroll down the site to look where the house sits compared to school district boundaries. You’ll also be able to access student-teacher ratios, average class sizes for schools in the district, as well as other information.

If you’re looking for something to do on the weekend, you can look at attractions and recreation, which will lists parks, theaters, swimming pools, stadiums, athletic fields, public golf courses, casinos, wineries, tourist attractions, bowling centers, video rentals, convention centers, museums, race tracks, zoos, gyms, and amusement parks.

The restaurants and nightlife sections lists types of food and eateries, from delis and cafes to fine dining. The public services and transportation section lists court houses, public libraries, city, village and town halls, post offices, airports, railroads and police and fire stations.

Neighborhood details include information on population size, income levels, crime, weather and more.

The site makes money through local real estate agents who pay to display their listings.

“It allows agents to advertise themselves and the houses they have for sale,” Heinz said, adding that someone looking for a house in Naperville, Illinois or San Francisco would see only the ads from someone who was local to that area.

Heinz also said he expects people who are considering an interstate or cross country move to use HomePages.com to compare neighborhoods and amenities as far away as Boston to Maui.

But after playing around with a beta version of the site, it’s easy to see how it could be useful in ways the folks behind HomePages.com haven’t considered.

Travelers might find the site to be extremely useful. If you’re traveling to another city and want to see how far away the hotel is from the convention center, you can map it, along with the restaurant you may be considering for that business dinner presentation. Or, if you’re traveling with kids, you can figure out which museums and attractions are closest.

Or, perhaps you’ve just got an afternoon to kill and want to dream about what it would be like to live some other city, far away from congestion, noise, and headaches of your own life.

For those armchair travelers, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the country – particularly on the Internet, where the average monitor can display more than 16 million different colors.

Oct. 17, 2005.