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Investors Feeling Pain of Homestore's Stalled Turnaround

Is Homestore.com (HOMS) fit for condemnation -- or a fixer-upper simply in need of a little TLC?

That's what investors want to know after the online real estate company's shares have crumbled in recent days, losing 38% of their value just since last Tuesday -- the day Homestore disappointed investors by missing analysts' earnings targets and pushing back its target date for profitability. The shares were recently up by a few pennies to $2.14 in Tuesday trading.

Although the company still has its fans, even some of them admit that Homestore is still a work in progress. "This is arguably the harriest Internet turnaround out there," said Mark Mahaney, who covers the company for American Technology Research. (American does not do investment banking and Mahaney does not hold shares in Homestore.)

Homestore is the leading national real estate site on the Web. The company operates the official Web site of the National Association of Realtors and lists the vast majority of houses for sale by real estate agents. The company also offers advertisements for newly built homes and for rental apartments.

Investors and analysts once valued shares of Homestore, which reached $138 in January 2000, in the same neighborhood as Yahoo! (YHOO), Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY).

Like those companies, Homestore's stock sunk in the subsequent market bust, but unlike them, Homestore's stock remained stuck in the mire after an accounting scandal and a subsequent inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Following its own investigation of the accounting matter, Homestore acknowledged that it had overstated its revenue and earnings in 2000 and 2001 by millions of dollars.

But the pain didn't stop there -- the company saw its revenue plunge in 2002 and again last year.

Reversing Course

Lately, however, the company seemed to be turning things around. Homestore has never posted a full-year profit as a public entity, but it began promising that black ink was just around the corner.

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