Real estate Web sites boom, despite market slump

PluggedIn: Real estate Web sites boom, despite market slump

By Euan RochaThu Jul 12, 5:17 PM ET

Home buyers and home sellers alike can
find more innovative and useful features than ever on real
estate Web sites, which are nimbly adapting to the U.S. housing
slump.

For those poking around the real estate market, it might be
worthwhile to check out sites like buysiderealty.com,
iggyshouse.com, zillow.com and trulia.com to see just how much
online home shopping has changed lately.

In the past, most real estate sites primarily offered
property listing services. That’s no longer the case thanks to
improved online mapping services and the spread of broadband
connections, which have allowed sites to take advantage of new
technology.

What’s more, as a means to drum up business, real estate
sites have looked to expand their features to include services
like alerts, "heat maps" showing active sales areas, video
postings, home estimates and Q&A forums. Some are even offering
rebates to home buyers.

Chuck Cole, for instance, recently bought a home in
Oakland, California, worth almost $450,000 — and met his
realtor just once through the entire month-long process.

Cole used the multiple listing service tool on
buysiderealty.com to pick the properties he wanted to visit.
Later, after deciding on a house and submitting an offer, he
had a realtor from buysiderealty.com handle the transaction.

For doing all the groundwork himself and bypassing a
traditional realtor, Cole was rewarded with a rebate of over
$8,000, or 75 percent of the buyer’s commission that
buysiderealty.com earned from the deal.

"We liked that everything was done pretty much by e-mail
and phone. When we’ve worked with realtors in the past it was a
big pain in the neck to try to connect with people in person
and to have to go to their office," said Cole.

MARKET SLUMP SPURS BOOM

If you’re looking to sell your house without using a real
estate agent, consider a visit to iggyshouse.com, a sister
concern of buysiderealty.com.

The site lures sellers with freebies like a multiple
listing service, a listing on realtor.com and posts on other
sites. Home sellers once paid agents a premium for such
services.

Iggyshouse.com also lets sellers and real estate agents
post photographs, videos and details about the property for
sale — at no cost.

"With 75 or 80 percent of sellers (also) being buyers, we
know that if we give them this free service and they are self
directed enough to sell on their own, there is a pretty good
chance that they’d want to use (the) buyside," said Joe Fox,
chief executive of iggyshouse.com and buysiderealty.com.

"We’re basically giving a free service to educate consumers
about another service that pays them to use it and that’s
exactly what is happening today," said Fox.

Another Web site that has entered this increasingly crowded
space is zillow.com, which launched in early 2006. It not only
offers free property listings, but also gives away a home
valuation service it calls Zestimate.

Pete Flint, CEO of trulia.com, says the housing market’s
downturn has played to the strengths of real estate Web sites.

"Although it’s unfortunate what’s going on in the housing
market, it’s really the online sites that are benefiting
because consumers are spending a little bit more time before
they make decisions and traditional real estate brokers are
rethinking the way they’re marketing themselves," Flint said.

"So the change in the housing market has forced a change
both in consumer behavior and forced a change within marketing
activity for real estate professionals and we are a perfect
platform for them both," he added.

Trulia.com, which launched in 2005, has signed agreements
with thousands of agencies that post all their available
property listings on the site. Trulia.com, in turn, generates
revenue through advertisements placed on its site.

On the site you’ll find services like trulia voices, which
allows you to pose questions to local residents and agents on
subjects as unexpected as the location of the nearest dog park.

If you’d like to be alerted every time a property in a
particular neighborhood goes on sale, trulia.com also sends you
free alerts. Another feature is "heat maps" that help you gauge
the demand and average price of properties in certain spots.

"The reality is that the actual (real estate) transaction
is not changing, so people are still going to go to open houses
and drive around neighborhoods, but the actual process of
research for the real estate transaction has radically
changed," said Flint.

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