REDMOND, Wash. (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. is getting into the real estate business.

Microsoft today launched a preview version of its HomeAdvisor online real estate service, which it bills as the first comprehensive guide to finding homes and loans online.

``Buying a home is perhaps the most important and exciting decision consumers make in their lifetime. Until now, there have not been a lot of great Web sites to help them through the process,'' said Pete Higgins, group vice president at Microsoft.

HomeAdvisor will offer features to help prospective home buyers find a real-estate agent, find the right neighborhood and secure a mortgage, among others.

The service, which will be offered free, will include home listings from multiple listing services and real estate brokerages nationally. The listings can be searched by criteria such as price or number of bedrooms or by comparing two houses side-by-side.

HomeAdvisor will not be the first real-estate Web page on the Internet. Many real estate firms and sales people list homes on the World Wide Web, as do some newspapers and individual homeowners. Many sites allow viewers to take ``virtual'' tours of homes, calculate monthly payments, and get mortgage information along with simply finding a listing.

HomeAdvisor can be found at http://www.homeadvisor.com