Publication Date: Wednesday, March 12,
Homebuyers are finding the homes of their dreams
on the Internet
by Cheri Lucas
Sujata and Sandeep Verma hit the Internet before pounding the pavement
when seeking their new home in Palo Alto.
"[My husband and I] were both working and had no time. Our
agent was prompt with e-mails and followed up with listings daily,"
zipRealty.com client Sujata Verma said. The couple describes the
online real estate experience as communicative, comfortable and
Not even four years old, zipRealty puts the power and decision-making
into the client's hands. This consumer-driven business, which is
headquartered in the East Bay, has no local offices. Instead, zipAgents
work out of their homes or virtual "zipMobiles," which
alleviates overhead costs. The company provides a 1 percent rebate
as well, which the Vermas found helpful for other purchases such
as furniture. "If you're looking for a $700,000 property in
Palo Alto, you could get up to $7,000 back," said Pat Lashinsky,
vice president of marketing.
Online real estate is becoming a common alternative. In addition
to full-service, Internet-based brokerages, such as zipRealty, other
traditional real estate offices -- such as Prudential California
Realty and Coldwell Banker -- have refined their Web sites, offering
daily updated listing services.
First-time buyers, such as the Vermas, want an affordable house
with a reputable school nearby. Combining e-mail and technology
with the personalization of zipAgents, clients conveniently have
the resources to educate them as well as the local expertise of
agents, said Cait Wallace Neumeister, a zipAgent for Palo Alto,
Mountain View, East Palo Alto, Los Altos, Menlo Park and Atherton.
According to a 2001 report of the National Association of Realtors,
80 percent of clients start their home search online. More than
30 percent of these Web searchers viewed the home they ultimately
purchased during this initial search.
Real estate Web sites provide all properties listed in the Multiple
Listing Service, or MLS, regardless of what brokerage has them listed.
"Prudential Realty uses tools to market extensively to clients
who are commonly corporate and Internet-savvy," said Otto Gabriel
of The Gabriel Team, a partner of Prudential California Realty based
on Waverley Street in Palo Alto. The Gabriel Team consists of a
husband-and-wife partnership that fuses a software and technology
consulting background with traditional real estate expertise.
Clients sign up for PruWeb.com's Listing Watch, a search tool launched
in October 2000, "which pulls listings matching specific criteria
and sends automatic e-mails daily to clients," Gabriel said.
"Palm Pilots, Web top interfaces, high technological services-it's
the way we communicate now," he said.
Through Zip Notify, zipRealty.com downloads MLS twice a day, giving
the homebuyer immediate access to potential homes, "from as
broad as a zip code to as narrow as a [particular] street,"
Newspapers offer advertisements, but not a full inventory of homes
for sale, so contacting a real estate agent has previously been
a homebuyer's best bet in gathering specific information. Today
one can also view homes at www.silvar.org, the Web site of the Silicon
Valley Association of Realtors.
However, traditional real estate agents based on the Peninsula agree
that online-based real estate is not intended, despite its success,
to replace traditional real estate sales.
Although the Web quickens the buying and selling process, "the
Web and technology are only tools that open avenues. Some high-tech
executives could use the Internet and completely bypass the agent,"
Magda Gabriel said.
"But when it comes to the negotiation, you'll never be able
to replace that human interaction," her husband added. "You
still need to build a personalized relationship with the agent,
and a good agent isn't replaceable."
Down from 86 percent in 1995 and 80 percent in 1999, the traditional
real estate agent was used in the buying process 79 percent of the
time in 2001. "There is a certain amount of legwork that can
be eliminated [with the use of the Web]," said Wallace Neumeister.
"There's no waste of time. Before clients even speak to an
agent, they can research neighborhoods, schools, and get loan information,"
With the advent of virtual tours on PruWeb.com or CaliforniaMoves.com,
the Web site established in May 2002 by Coldwell Banker Northern
California, consumers can view almost every angle of a house in
the comfort of their own home.
Statistics compiled by the California Association of Realtors show
that buyers and sellers in California use more technology than in
any other part of the nation. "Prudential Realty measures hits
to its site. California was an early adopter," said Ginny Cain,
vice president, director of marketing of Prudential CA/NV/TX Realty.
Many clients in Palo Alto are "younger first- or second-time
buyers" who are computer-savvy, Neumeister said.
What is the future of Internet-based real estate? "The future
of technology for Realtors does lie in wireless transmission,"
Complaints have been minimal about reliability of site information,
the Gabriels said. "Sometimes sites are not updated, and clients
may be eyeing a house that's already been sold," Magda Gabriel
said. But with tools such as Prudential's one-year-old Web top,
which is a "knowledge portal with real-time information,"
agents who embrace the technology will save hours of time for themselves
and their clients. "Those not into the technology may not be
as profitable. They'll lose market share and exposure," the
An added bonus is cutting down on the never-ending paperwork, a
complaint of clients of both the online and traditional agent. "With
the electronic signature law passed last year in Congress, consumers
can read and sign documents online, which saves hours of time,"