Business

Real estate on the World Wide Web

real estate by Jack Purdie
Washington Center for Real Estate Research, Washington State University

Real estate professionals as well as buyers and sellers of real estate have recently flooded the computer world of the Internet.
    Information about real estate, including housing, urban and rural economics, demographics, income and population data and policy analysis is increasingly available to analysts and decision-makers over the Internet.
    While the Internet has been around for many years, the World Wide Web (WWW) has only recently made its mark on the world of computer information exchange.
    The WWW (also known as "the Web") allows computer users to access computer "pages" with graphics and photo images by typing a simple command or, more commonly, a click of the mouse. This assumes that you have the computer hardware and software to get to the Web, and a reasonable level of savvy and patience to be able to figure out the basics of the Internet.
    The main problem with the Web is that current telecommunications technology is not fast enough for most computer users to be able to access Web sites at more than a snail's pace. Even with the fastest modems commercially available (28.8 bps), it can take several minutes long for a Web home page with graphics or photos to appear on your computer screen.
    Even with this major hurdle to overcome, there are a variety of reasons why real estate professionals and consumers are exploring the World Wide Web.
    Many real estate brokers and agents have already recognized the potential for marketing their wares on the Web, with new home pages popping up every day.
    Since the Internet is a global phenomena, thousands of real estate-related Web pages have appeared in just the past year.
    Home buyers can log onto the Internet and view property descriptions and photos, as well as "who's who" lists of real estate agents for their town or from all over the world.
    Home sellers can hire an Internet service provider to set up a page just for the property they want to sell, have their real estate agent list the property for them on the company home page, or even do it themselves from their home computer.
    Real estate investors and analysts are learning how to tap information from a variety of sources more efficiently on-line than through conventional research channels.
    World Wide Web service providers represent a growing presence on the Internet. Several Internet directories (much like the Yellow Pages of a phone book) are devoted entirely to on-line real estate companies, listings, services, and information exchanges.
    Some cautions should be noted before jumping in with both feet. As already mentioned, there is the problem of the time it takes to access the graphics attached to most Web pages.
    Other items to consider carefully before setting up shop on the Web are cost, ongoing upkeep time, and over-dependence on your Web page, especially for marketing efforts.
    Just getting started with your own page on the Web can also be expensive, ranging from $500 for a first-time setup fee and $25 per month to several thousand dollars per year or more.
    Second, even after making the investment, keeping your home page current takes time, especially if you are a busy agent or professional with multiple properties or services. You can't offer the same properties or marketing copy month after month and expect customers to keep coming back.
    Third, a Web presence should be seen as an addition to your current efforts, not a replacement. Real estate is still bought and sold face to face, mortgages finalized at the broker's office, and money made the old fashioned way: one customer at a time. This can be taken only so far with a computer.
    With these cautions in mind, it is encouraging to know that Web sites are actually drawing real estate customers because of on-line contacts. Exchanging relocation information becomes much faster and easier over the Internet, and if you have the right hardware and software, the transmission of photos, text, and even sound becomes almost instantaneous.
    This medium has the potential to convey rich information about a region, location, a property, and even the floor plan of that property at the speed of your modem connection.
    Savvy buyers are looking for sellers on the Web, and vice versa. Real estate professionals are beginning to cash in by making the connection.
    If you haven't already done so, you'll need to get on-line and start "surfing" the Web, either through one of the major on-line services or one of the dedicated Internet access companies that will make your entry into the World Wide Web relatively painless.
    The standard PC configuration (a 386 or 486 processor with eight or more megabytes of RAM) and a high-speed modem are the basic hardware tools required. Contact your local computer store for specific information on how to get connected.
    Once you're on, there's a whole new world out there. A good place to start is with a "search engine," a managed link to categories of similar Web sites. (Two search engines that are easy to use and updated often are YAHOO and WebCrawler.)
    A recent visit to the YAHOO search engine revealed 389 companies, three institutes, four marketing firms, 18 mortgage companies, and 16 organizations with real estate-related Web pages.

The Washington Center for Real Estate Research address on the Web is http://www.wcrer.wsu.edu. For general real estate questions, call 1-800-835-9683, or send e-mail to wcrer@wsu.edu.