Real estate is big business on the Internet. More homes are listed online
than ever before. And that's leading to stiffer competition between real
estate web sites, as well as greater scrutiny of advertising claims. While
that's good news for consumers, what's the real message here? Actually,
there are two messages for both homebuyers and sellers trying to choose a web
site: 1 - Bigger isn't always better, and 2 - There's no substitute for
A January, 1999 study questioned whether four major real estate sites
actually publish as many home listings as they boast of. A major Multiple
Listing Service (MLS) consulting firm called Clareity challenged the
advertising claims of Realtor.com, CyberHomes, HomeSeekers, and HomeAdvisor.
Researchers tried to verify the claims by manually counting the number of
homes listed. Clareity's results showed some major discrepancies among the
number of listings claimed, saying that the four exaggerated their numbers
anywhere from 8% to 170%. Two of the web companies challenged the study,
however, and Clareity has since revised some of its findings.
Clareity asked whether all these sites are really as big as they claim to be.
But how much does size really matter to the consumer? It's the old quantity
versus quality debate. The bottom line is what type of experience does the
web offer the homebuyer? Is the web site easy to navigate? Can you find
homes in the neighborhoods you're interested in? The other point to remember
is that online real estate advertising is still in its infancy and real
estate databases need time to work out the kinks.
But homebuyers shouldn't be turned off from using the web. Shopping online
is a great shortcut to getting the essential information about home listings,
sometimes directly from the seller, although you may have to wade through
several sites to get there. Obviously, you'll have to visit the home in
person to get all the facts and a feel for the home.
One of the major advantages of working from your PC is anonymity. That's
where the computer can insulate the buyer from pressure sales tactics.
There's no real estate agent filtering the information or pressuring you to
buy. 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 approach the agent or home seller. But just remember that e-mail is a very
impersonal medium. It's easier to misunderstand, or be offended, when you're
not facing a person directly or talking over the phone.
The web also is a great source for FSBO listings (for sale by owner) because
it offers FSBOs a place to advertise without going through a real estate
agency. The main reason people choose to sell without an agent is
financial--they save about 6 percent in realtor commissions. Of course, what
the seller chooses to do with the savings is another matter. They may or may
not reduce the price proportionately.
By Cliff McCreedy