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Web eases vacation home buying

In the 1980s, Diane Saatchi was a real estate agent who worked out of an office without a fax machine. Her company didn't make overnight mail available to agents. She was the first in the office to get one of those blocky, newfangled cell phones.

Now the fax machine and overnight mail have fallen out of favor at Saatchi's office at the Corcoran Group in the tony Hamptons of Long Island, having yielded to e-mail and the Web. Saatchi e-mails purchase contracts and photos of houses to clients, and those potential buyers conduct much of their research on the Web.

And if they have some quick questions to ask, they e-mail them to Saatchi's Blackberry wireless device (so addictive that she calls it the "Crackberry").

Vacation season is the time of year when tourists fall in love with their destinations. They begin to dream of buying beach bungalows or mountain hideaways. They don't want to disrupt their vacations with days of house hunting. So they turn to technology. The Web and e-mail make it easier for people to shop for vacation homes long-distance.

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Wise use of technology is a necessity to reach some home buyers. Karen Hoth, a school librarian in Marathon, Fla., says she does a lot of online research before she and her husband, Gary Dickinson, buy property. When they peruse real estate Web sites, they tend to skip over the listings that offer little information.

"In the new Internet age, I think a lot of people have trouble understanding that you have to be very forthcoming on your Web site information for people to think it's worth their time to get more information," she says.

In 2003, Hoth and her husband bought a house in Spring Hill, Fla., north of Tampa, as an investment property. Now they are buying a condominium in Fort Myers, on Florida's Gulf Coast about a four-hour drive from their home in the Keys. Both times the Web played a large role.

They searched for potential properties on the Web (Hoth's favorite site was because it gives a lot of information) and e-mailed a bunch of real estate agents, then communicated with the agents by e-mail and phone. By the time they drove up to meet the agents, they knew specifically which properties they were going to look at so they wouldn't waste time.

Hoth was familiar with Spring Hill because her parents had bought a house there in 1998 and she visits it two or three times a year. But she and her husband knew little about the Fort Myers area when they started looking for a place that they could rent out for part of the year and use as a getaway in summer, when school is out and the Keys are sweltering. They started researching Fort Myers on the Web, determining which neighborhoods they might be interested in.

When they found the condo they eventually decided to buy, the real estate agent was getting ready to take some photos to e-mail to them when they found an online virtual tour of an identical unit. That sold them on buying the condo unit.

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-- Posted: Aug. 5, 2004
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See Also
Fractional ownership: Getting your piece of a vacation home
How to buy a second home
Should you use home equity to buy a second home?
Track prime rate/other leading rate indexes
More real estate stories

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