If you're searching for a new home without leaving the comfort of your own, you're in good company. A full 84 percent of recent homebuyers used the Internet in that way last year, according to the 2007 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
"The Internet is the first stop for most homebuyers I have dealt with in recent years," says Realtor Alexander Clark, founder of theFrontSteps.com, a social network for "real estate obsessed-San Franciscans." "Most brokerages are beefing up their Web sites," she says.
And the most serious buyers are getting listings online as soon as they hit the market.
What kinds of clicks are they getting?
"The first thing a consumer will hit is real estate listings sites," says Patrick Kitano, co-founder and managing principal of Domus Consulting Group, which helps brokerages develop technology marketing strategies. After the listings part is figured out, it's analysis that homebuyers seek, in Kitano's experience.
That analysis has two parts:
- Automated valuation-modeling software calculations such as those offered at Zillow.com (a Bankrate.com partner) and Cyberhomes.com. These tools help estimate what a home's true current value is.
- Real-time neighborhood news and insight such as what can be found on some real estate agent blogs.
Kitano's own blog, TransparentRealEstate.com, aims to document the business strategies of Web 2.0 companies and their impact on the industry. Besides individual blogs by those in the industry, he's seeing sites that group real estate bloggers who cover a particular area (such as Homescopes.com in Northern California) and consumers sharing information on sites such as Homethinking.com, which posts reviews of individual agents.
Clark also has his eye on blogs "where many Realtors come together under one roof to provide insight. They tend to be much more informative, contain a broader base of knowledge and not have the 'sales pitch'" of most individual agents' blogs.
As James Hsu, a suburban Seattle-based Realtor and real estate investor, points out, it's wise to avoid lead-generating Web sites, as well. "A site that requires a person to give contact information in order to provide you a 'free' estimation of your home's value is very likely only selling that contact info to a local agent."
Forums are another popular beyond-the-listings look, and sites with listings that also invite discussion are gaining fans. "As people turn to the Internet to do more research on their own, sites like Zillow and Trulia that have forums for these people to ask questions or just read up on what people have talked about will, in the long run, win over more people," says Hsu, the blogger behind Northwest Real Estate Update.
For help in managing the search for home listings in the first place, today's sites allow consumers to avoid having to keep checking back and doing the same searches over and over again. From e-mail alerts on new or updated listings that match a buyer's criteria to the ability to save and even comment on searches to be picked up again later, many sites have added features to help take the frustration out of the search. (There's plenty of opportunity for that later on during a home purchase anyhow.)
Here is a collective look at real estate listings sites recommended by bloggers Clark, Kitano, Hsu, Joel Burslem (The Future of Real Estate Marketing) and Noah Rosenblatt, (UrbanDigs.com).
Best places to shop for homes
Almost 80 percent of homebuyers seek information online before buying.
- National search sites
- Multiple market area sites
- Notable locals and regionals