Home Buying: Researching Homes on the Web is Time Saving

The Nashua Telegraph (Progress Edition business supplement), March 17th, 2000

Have you ever ordered a compact disk over the Internet? Or a book?

How about a house?

Right now, real estate transactions generally remain grounded in the realm of paper documents and face-to-face negotiations and closings. However, people are increasingly turning to the Web to help them narrow the search for a home or a real estate agent. Home buyers can save time and money by using the Web, while agents and brokers can utilize the Web as a powerful marketing tool.

Lorraine DeMinico is the manager of DeWolfe of New England’s Nashua office, as well as the 1998 president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. She agreed that the Web is becoming an important part of the real estate business.

“That is true,” DeMinico said. “I think the consumer is computer-savvy. They’re in their own homes searching the Web, so they can have an idea of the price ranges in the area they’re thinking of moving to.”

“We’re seeing a lot of people emailing from our Web site (www.DeWolfe.com) or from Realtor.com for more information about our listings,” she added. “We’re getting some sales that way.”

Leslie Patterson, the marketing director for Stabile Homes in Merrimack, has seen the Internet’s influence on home sales from a different perspective–that of the builder. Stabile Homes is a general construction company specializing in building new homes, such as the Heron Cove development under construction in Merrimack.

“We’ve gotten several good hits off the Internet,” Patterson said, estimating that about ten percent of Stabile homes are sold to people who found the them on the Web. Stabile Homes operates its own Web site (www.hjstabile.com), and is also linked to HomeBuilder.com, the Web site of the National Association of Home Builders.

“It’s especially beneficial to people relocating,” Patterson said. She cited the virtual tours offered by Stabile Homes through its association with HomeBuilder.com. “A husband and wife can come visit and tour the site in person. Then they can go home and look it over again on the computer and talk it over.”

DeWolfe of New England plans a similar service on its Web site. “In our case, we’re starting a videography of all our estates,” DeMinico said. Potential buyers will be able to view videos of homes listed with DeWolfe.

This technology can save time for buyers and agents alike. In the past, buyers were limited to touring available homes in person, often in the company of an agent, which can be time-consuming for both sides. Now, they can view one home after another in the time it takes to point and click their computer mouse.

Buyers can also save time by searching Web listings for homes meeting their criteria, such as price or number of bedrooms, and they can search the listings of many brokers before settling on one agent. Or they can search for information about the area they are thinking of moving to, including schools, taxes, and cultural attractions. What’s more, they can do it from anywhere in the country, before they even visit the area for the first time.

All this means that buyers can come into an agent’s office with a much more distinct idea of what they are looking for. “They’re surfing the Web, looking at property listings, and talking about them when they come in,” said DeMinico.

Patterson notes that home buyers can also arm themselves with information when searching for a builder. “They can screen builders, so their homework, and narrow it down to a selection of builders,” she said.

She added that there’s another benefit for builders who have a Web site. “A lot of people feel that with today’s technology, if you have a Web site it makes you more legitimate. People say, ‘We saw you on the Web,’ or ‘We saw your name used as a benchmark by another builder.’”

Web sites which allow home buyers to secure a mortgage–or even to bid on a mortgage at auction–have generated excitement in the media. Knowing that, have buyers been arriving with Web-based mortgages? DeMinico and Patterson have had different experiences.

“We haven’t really seen that,” said DeMinico. “At DeWolfe we have our own mortgage company. Buyers like to use one-stop shopping. And people still like that face-to-face contact, to get help filling out those forms–some of those forms are really long and intimidating.”

“Also, there are no hidden costs with us,” she added. “And people aren’t sure if there are hidden costs with mortgages on the Web.”

Patterson, on the other hand, seems more upbeat about Internet financing. “Through HomeBuilder.com we can link people to banks and mortgage companies,” she said. “They can find out current rates, and who is providing mortgages. The site has a feature that allows them to calculate their own mortgages, or it will tell you if you’re qualified.”

Will the Web’s influence on home sales grow in the future?

“It’s happening!” Patterson exclaimed, referring to the growth of mortgages and new home searches on the Web.

DeMinico is also optimistic about the Web’s potential. When asked if the Web’s influence on real estate sales would grow, she replied, “Oh, yes! That’s why we’re all getting computer-savvy and bringing ourselves up to speed, so we can be there for the consumer.”

But DeMinico believes the human touch will always be the most important part of the home-buying process. “I think that even though we have the Web, the actual reality is that buyers still want the service that’s provided, meeting the Realtor face-to-face, and getting information from the Realtor. The Web is a tool, another service for the consumer, but you still need that face-to-face contact.”