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Web-based real estate marketing
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An integrated approach
All this doesn't mean that all developers are ready to forsake tried-and-true methods. Many prefer an integrated approach.

"Every development needs a great Web site because it makes a great statement about the project," says Pamela Liebman, CEO of The Corcoran Group, a New York City-based residential developer and marketer with more than 30 years of experience in the U.S. and offshore markets. Interactive Web sites, she says, also make possible a dialogue between a developer and potential buyers, who can register a wish for bigger units or more greenery.
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"We have had success in the past with no sales office, just relying on Internet advertising," Liebman says. "We sold out over 100 units in one project that way. But that's quite unusual. People want to touch and feel what they're going to buy. While we use the Internet to expose our product, we rarely consummate a sale that way. So we're not doing away with bricks and mortar.''

Jim Cohen, vice president of sales at Turnberry Associates, which builds high-rises in Las Vegas, Virginia and Florida, says the sales office remains a vital selling tool.

"We go all out on our sales offices, because they're going to be there for a long time," he says. "We're not looking to sell out the project in a day."

No matter how quickly a project "sells out," a sale isn't really a sale until the unit is delivered and the contract closed, says Edgardo Defortuna, president of Fortune International, a Miami-based real estate and development firm that has marketed more than 100 new properties across South Florida.

"Even if we are mostly sold out, we still build a sales office and models," he says. "There has to be something to keep the buyer excited during the two or three years the project may be under construction."

Another thing the Internet will never be able to replace, Defortuna says, is the relationship between seller and buyer.

"There is no substitute for personal contact," he says. "End users especially need to know who the developer is and have a relationship with the salesperson."

The industry online
Industry statistics make it clear that the real-estate profession is not in danger of losing ground to Internet sales.

"Bill Gates predicted in 1995 that because of the Internet, our membership would drop," says National Association of Realtors spokesman Walter Molony. "Then we had 720,000 members. Today we are at 1.3 million. So that prediction has not panned out."

Citing a recent survey of 135,000 home buyers by his organization, Molony says that though 77 percent used the Internet to search for properties, 81 percent used an agent to consummate the sale. Back in '95 when Gates made his forecast, only 2 percent of home buyers shopped by computer.

"The Internet is the norm today," Molony says. "About 95 percent of all listings are available online, and consumers are going to go where the listings are. But people still want a Realtor to explain the contract and handle the paperwork."

Next: "It's relatively easy to sell preconstruction over the Internet."
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