Thursday, March 1, 2012

House Hunting Efficiently

One of the consequences of the kind of convergence shown in this graph was that it created the need to buy a house. It's become a ritual to spend weekdays creating a list of houses that are feasible with respect to hard constraints (big kitchen, level lot, ..), and then converting that into a prioritized list based on how they score on soft constraints (pre-wired for Bose speakers, for example) that in turn motivates a preferred way of visiting these houses during weekends. I noticed that I rarely see each house in isolation and my view of a house tends to be colored by what I saw earlier. However, of late, the time to view these houses has become a scarce resource, so I created an O.R driven prioritized list that maximizes and optimally allocates viewing time, keeping the total duration equal to the limited time available. I used my automobile GPS unit as the solver.

This GPS unit "solves" the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP) to figure out the optimal (?) order of visitation that minimizes total drive time, which automatically maximizes aggregate viewing time. (In particular, if houses are located on either side of a busy highway or Main Street, a good heuristic would be ensure that the optimal path intersects such a link infrequently.) I can then allocate the optimal expected viewing time to the houses based on personal preferences. The total viewing time also informs me if I have spread myself too thin, in which case, I can start deleting houses with the lowest scores from the list and re-optimize until the solution looks reasonable. 

If viewing order is important from a 'relative comparison' perspective, the resultant constrained TSP problem becomes a bit more harder to solve using a GPS unit. A simple heuristic rule could be to fix the second node ("first house to first") and/or the second-last node ("house to visit last") of the tour and let the others be visited based on time-optimality. If your realtor drives you around, her/his office is the start and end node of the Hamiltonian circuit.

One issue I encountered while using the GPS unit to merely drive-by a house as part of a local neighborhood search (pun unintended) is that I had to get close enough to the house and maybe pause a bit to inform the GPS that this house has been reached. Otherwise, the GPS unit would continually re-route me back to the house, resulting in considerable confusion.

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