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Web-based real estate marketing
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Statisticians for The National Association of Realtors deal only with resale properties, which are documented on multiple listing services. Tracking the preconstruction market is more difficult because there hasn't been any coordinated catalog of what's available at what price -- at least until recently. Dean Isenberg, a Florida Realtor and entrepreneur, has introduced, a nationwide listing service he hopes will become "the ebay of preconstruction properties."

Real-estate professionals with hundreds of units to sell can upload floor plans, photos or renderings to the site, he says -- and avoid paying cooperating broker commissions by reaching potential buyers directly.

For a real-estate professional representing a buyer, says Isenberg, the site provides an easy reference to all pre-construction properties available in the area a client is interested in.

Let the buyer beware
Seasoned brokers agree that Internet usage is probably higher among investors, who drive the preconstruction market. They say anyone buying a product that doesn't yet exist needs to be careful.

"It's relatively easy to sell preconstruction over the Internet," says The Corcoran Group's Liebman. "People think they're getting a bargain, and getting it easily. But in exchange, they have to go by the word of the developer and the offering document, without actually seeing what they're getting."

Internet buyers, she says, "need to read those offering documents very carefully, and have an attorney read them as well."

Recent changes in the market should also raise red flags for would-be investors. As construction costs continue to go through the roof, many condo developers are rethinking projects not already under way.

"I believe that any modestly priced project that has not yet started construction runs a very high risk of not being built at all, because the cost of construction is soaring," Zilbert says. "So my advice to anyone looking to buy preconstruction is, if there is no visible evidence that the project has started, be very wary -- especially if the developer is unknown and has no track record."

To get an honest evaluation in such cases, he suggests working with independent agents rather than the developers' sales team.

Next: "The days of big billboards are gone."
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