Attention, Cyber-Shoppers, let your mouse do the walking instead of being
dragged from home-to-home by a fast-talking real estate agent. Online home
shopping is expanding dramatically, enough to make it worthwhile spending
time browsing the web in addition to the Sunday newspaper. But remember the
dos and don'ts of the virtual home shopping game.
You just can't beat the World Wide Web for its sheer volume of information
and geographical range. You can be sitting at your home computer in Dubuque
browsing homes in Denver. Just about anyone can set up a web site, so, of
course the quantity and quality of information vary wildly. But a standard,
5-line newspaper ad can't compete with today's well-designed web pages, some
of which allow you to take a virtual home tour right from your PC.
A traditional home search involves browsing the newspaper ads or following up
on for-sale signs. Most of the time, it's on a "need-to-know" basis, with
just enough information to tease you into calling the listing agent. When
you're just shopping around, all you want are the facts, not a commitment or
a bunch of sales hype. Shopping online is a great shortcut to getting the
essential information about home listings, sometimes directly from the
seller. Working from your PC, you get to keep your distance from real estate
agents or sellers. That's a major advantage to buyers. Naturally, once you
make any contact with an agent, you lose your anonymity and become a "sales
prospect." But you get to choose when and where to make yourself known.
You're not actually committed to a particular agent until he or she
accompanies you to that property in person. Once you do that, the agent
becomes part of your baggage. Let's say you don't like the first agent and
soon go back and buy the home with a different agent. Under most
circumstances, whoever showed you the home originally can stake a claim to at
least part of the sales commission, if you end up using someone else a short
Naturally, agents always pump you for information, too. Don't ever give up
more than you have to. Never, for example, tell them the maximum amount
you're qualified to borrow. That's going to weaken your bargaining position
and potentially inflate the asking price.
Web-based advertising has created a bonanza in low-cost advertising for FSBO
sellers (for sale by owner) who can't normally compete with real estate
brokers. You can browse FSBO listings to your heart's content. It almost
puts FSBOs on an equal footing, at least in terms of national exposure. The
main reason people choose to sell without an agent is financial-they save 6%
in realtor commissions. But remember that they may choose to keep the extra
money rather than pass some of it on to you.
The downside to working with do-it-yourselfers is their inexperience and lack
of perspective--sometimes they're so emotionally attached they can't set a
realistic price or negotiate pragmatically. Any criticism of the home can
and will be held against you. Plus they can be clueless when it comes to the
specifics of real estate transactions. That's where the computer can be a
real shield against a jaded or intemperate home seller. Just remember that
e-mail is a very cold medium. It's easy to offend or be offended when you're
not facing a person directly or over the phone.
By Cliff McCreedy