A growing number of people are turning to the Internet to find a home instead of using a real estate agent.
The percentage of people who used the Internet to locate a house to buy jumped to 24 percent from 2 percent between 1997 and 2006, according to “The Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers” by the National Association of Realtors. Buyers who found their homes through real estate agents dropped to 36 percent from 50 percent during the same period, the report shows.
“The Internet is an extremely powerful tool and a major asset when it comes to home searches,” said Brent Jones, president of the Columbia Board of Realtors. “A high percentage of customers look at the Internet first and then come into the real estate office to consult with their Realtor and view the properties in person.”
The advantages of Internet shopping are convenience and immediacy for potential home buyers.
Adonica Coleman of Columbia, Md., searched Homegain.com last October to search for potential homes here. After giving information about what type of home she wanted, the Web site directed her to real estate agents in the area. She selected Steve Strawn of RE/MAX Boone Realty.
The family moved because Coleman’s husband, Demarko Coleman, was transferred to Missouri by his employer. He moved to Columbia before the rest of his family and began working with Strawn. By the time Adonica Coleman arrived, her husband and the agent had shortened the list of options to seven or eight homes.
“Steve helped us narrow down our list, but it was nice to use the Internet first to initially see what the market and area were like,” Adonica Coleman said.
The Colemans closed on their new home Jan. 30.
Some clients look at homes for six to eight months online before they go to a real estate office, said Emily Thrasher, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Boone Realty.
“This may seem like a long time period, but hopefully the customers are more prepared for buying a house,” Thrasher said. “It’s not just purchasing a home. It’s going through the buying process, because there are other costs associated with the home.”
Another advantage of house-hunting online is that the high-resolution photos and virtual tours of homes make it easier for home buyers to see what they’re getting.
“It’s less scary for people to look online instead of getting immediate personal attention,” Thrasher said. “There is no salesman trying to push on them until they are ready to buy. It’s more a comfort and safety issue before they get another party involved.”
So, are Realtors’ jobs in jeopardy if potential customers find their homes online? Carol Van Gorp, CEO of the Columbia Board of Realtors, doesn’t think so.
“Real estate agents are still useful because we have local knowledge,” she said. “The information on the Internet can show you homes, but it takes people with knowledge of the homes and the city to refine the search. A customer’s potential home could be next to a pig farm, and a Realtor can help cut down on looking time and zero in on homes.”
Thrasher agrees: “You still need (a) Realtor to do the process and paperwork,” she said. “You need someone to represent you and get you a good deal on a home.”
Many real estate agents are trying to use the Internet to their advantage, such as sending home buyers a list of homes that fit their criteria. The list makes it easier for agents to market homes.
“Agents can spend time on other parts of the home-buying process rather than driving you around,” Van Gorp said.
Other useful tools for home buyers and real estate agents are e-mail and text messaging. At the RE/MAX Boone Realty Web site, www.boone1.com, clients can go to an individual agent’s site and set up an appointment.
“I often get leads via cell phones by text (message) and then I can call clients quickly, making me automatic, available 24/7,” Thrasher said.
Some out-of-town customers never see their home in person during the buying process.
Sheri Radman, an agent with RE/MAX Boone Realty, has a client from Newfoundland, Canada, who wants to move to Columbia. Radman and the client have called and sent e-mails to one another, and Radman sent house listings and photos to the client, who made an offer on a home.
Thrasher has a client in Colorado who was referred to her. She said the client heard that Columbia is a good place to invest in homes, researched the homes online, and then worked with Thrasher during the home-buying process. All of their work was done by e-mail, phone calls, and faxes. Thrasher said the investor made five deals in town but never came to Columbia before buying the properties.