If you’re looking to buy a house, sell your home, finance or refinance your mortgage, the Internet is apparently the place to be. But some experts compare the current state of the Internet to the early days of television — say in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
How many sites are there? Brad Inman, an Internet real estate news and information publisher estimates there are currently between 25,000 to 30,000 real estate-related web sites, though admits that number could be as high as 100,000.
Searching the Internet for a home these days means wading through literally millions of listings, many of them duplicative, many out of date. The second incarnation of the official web site of the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.com), boasts more than 850,000 listings nationwide, with that number reaching over 1 million by year end. They’ve gotten to that stunning number by convincing multiple listing services in major metropolitan areas to upload their listings. Philadelphia, until recently a holdout, has finally signed up.
If you think just tapping into realtor.com will get you where you want to go, well, it might. But there are other places to try. A new site, Realty Locator (www.realtylocator.com) bills itself as the “next generation,” yet allows you to search properties based on the same factors: size, amenities, and location.
The three HFS-owned real estate chains (Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and ERA) each have their listings up on their own site. Century 21 allows America Online subscribers to tap into 21 Communities, which allows you to view Century 21 listings by city and state. It also gives other information about the area, which many home buyers will find valuable.
It also seems that each independent (and some franchise) real estate firms have their own web sites as well. The California Association of Realtors started up two web sites, one for California listings, one for national listings. You can put your preferred destination into YAHOO! or Netscape or another browser and end up with dozens of real estate web sites options.
Finally, many newspapers put their real estate listings up on their sites, sandwiched between articles and the classifieds. By the time you hit the local newspaper’s web site, you might find you’ve seen the same listing three or four times. Will that make you more likely to call the broker? That’s what the agents are counting on.
Sellers, too. If you’re selling, the Internet might be the best thing to happen in a long time. If you’re selling on your own, there are numerous sites that allow you to list your home, either for free or for a nominal sum. Many of these sites claim lots of successes, though you’ll want to be a bit skeptical on that point.
Listing your home with an agent can mean it might show up in as many as four or five different places. New technology enables you to upload color photographs or even video with an audio message, of your home. The most successful Internet sellers are those making inventive listings. Before you hire your next listing agent, ask if he or she has access to some digital photography equipment.
If you’re looking to finance your home, or just want information about the process, you’ll be showered with sites. A good place to start for buying, selling or financing is the International Real Estate Directory (www.ired.com/dir). You’ll be given multiple categories from which to choose, from buying to selling to architects to mortgages. Each category has thousands of listings. IRED also ranks sites and offers a top ten sites of the month.
If you want reliable mortgage rate data, and information on where to find some of the best deals on credit cards, try the Bank Rate Monitor’s site (www.bankrate.com). Each of the three major credit bureaus has their own site. Experian, formerly TRW, offers a home portfolio report with property profile, home sales reports and a demographic profile of your neighborhood for $5.
Looking for a few good leads? Secondary market leaders Fannie Mae (www.homepath.com) and Freddie Mac (www.freddie.com) offer loads of information about the mortgage process. Both sites offer hyperlinks to various mortgage lenders involved with different Fannie and Freddie programs.
Many national lenders have their own sites. Like many, Countrywide Home Loans (www.countrywide.com) and Bank of America (www.bofa.com) offer browsers information and the ability to apply for a loan. Brand new sites such as the Mortgage LoanPage (www.loanpage.com) and Home Shark (www.homeshark.com), claim to offer borrowers the ability to shop for a loan online. In reality, what you get is a listing of member mortgage brokers, who don’t put their rates up for scrutiny.
And, that’s ultimately the problem with the Internet. Sometimes, what you see isn’t really what you get, whether it’s out of date listings or the classic bait and switch: A mortgage rate you were promised online evaporates when the time comes for the lender to commit to the loan.
For sellers, the promised golden land of repeat impressions (something advertisers have paid dearly for in other mediums), hasn’t materialized. Tom Canty, a real estate agent and mortgage broker with US Mortgage in San Diego, says homes don’t really sell faster on the web — yet. Someday they might. Unfortunately for you, unless that happens today it doesn’t really matter. By the time it happens, you’ll have sold your home.
For buyers, calling (or emailing) a real estate broker about his or her listings on the web opens up another can of worms — dual agency. Once you contact the broker, you’re technically that broker’s buyer, and you put yourself in a situation where the same agent is representing both you and the seller.
Only it may not even be that good. In some states, the broker still represents the seller and you have no representation. Agents should be upfront about that, and many states require them to tell you who they represent on their first contact. But many don’t, and that can leave home buyers floundering.
So what’s good about the Internet? The sharing of information. There is plenty of it out there — about schools, crime, neighborhoods, the process of buying, selling, and financing. Heck, you can even find my columns out there on a few web sites.
What you need to do is look at these sites and think about who is providing you with this information. After all, the Internet is simply another type of media, like newspapers and radio. The crucial question you have to ask is this: What do the owners of these sites want in return?