Real Estate

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How the Midpeninsula real estate market uses online websites to its advantage

For Midpeninsula real estate agents, online real estate web sites have dramatically affected the world of home buyers, home sellers and real estate agents.

More than 10 years after the launch of the online pioneer -- Seattle-based Zillow Group Inc. -- industry professionals say they're increasingly using Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and other online residential real estate resources to their advantage, while trying to educate the home buying and selling public as to both their strengths and shortcomings.

"There's no question they have brought more information to the consumer and that's a good thing," said Ron Gable, vice president and managing broker of Alain Pinel Realtors in Menlo Park. "It's not that they're not trying to do a good job, but the information is often very general and home values can be off anywhere from 15 to 25 percent in either direction.They don't take all the details into account. More buyers and sellers understand that better today, as well as the need for a skilled Realtor to help them grasp those details of a given property, neighborhood and community."

Chris Isaacson, an agent in the Woodside office of Coldwell Banker Real Estate and former president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors, credits online services with creating a more knowledgeable group of home buyers, especially those buying for the first time and those moving to the Midpeninsula from outside the area. The dynamic shifts a bit for veteran buyers.

"Second- and third-time buyers realize that while the websites are a useful tool, they also know how much a Realtor can do for them," he said.

Isaacson said for industry professionals like himself, the wildly popular websites have brought about a change in marketing tactics.

"They have had a big role in shifting advertising dollars from print to online," said Isaacson, who has advertised online for the past five years. "Aggressive agents can spend lots of money to have a presence there. But we still advertise in print, too. It's a good way to remind people you know you are still in the business as they thumb through the paper while having their coffee."

But it would seem more people are thumbing through their cell phone screens to get real estate information these days. According to officials of Trulia.com -- a fully owned subsidiary of Zillow Group that offers mobile and online resources for properties for sale or rent -- more than 168 million unique users visited real-estate websites operated by Zillow Group each month during the second quarter of 2016. The sites contain information from more than 400 multiple listing service (MLS) sources and 13,000 real estate brokers nationwide.

"Trulia is a great resource for both consumers and industry professionals," said Paul Levine, Trulia's president. "Trulia can help agents reach a wide audience and ultimately move their inventory faster, as well as help them identify new home buyers and potential clients, and build their brand online."

Another major online player is Realtor.com, a service that Santa Clara-based Move Inc. created in collaboration with the National Association of Realtors. The website draws more than 50 million visitors per month, according to Lexie Puckett Holbert, communications director for Move Inc. She said Realtor.com displays listings for virtually all MLS-listed homes for sale nationally. Information on prices, open houses and photos is updated every 15 minutes.

She said Realtor.com is an online partner for real estate agents helping them with things like free agent profiles that list their past sales and current homes on the market as well as client ratings and reviews.

There was a time Realtors saw the online sites as more competitor than collaborator. Early on, some home sellers would stubbornly cling to prices they saw online -- something often referred to as the "Zillow effect." There were even fears they would cull the ranks of human brokers. Those concerns have been allayed for some.

"Nowadays, the websites are considered more of a tool in your box of tools," said David Barca, also a former SILVAR president and vice president and broker for Pacific Union Real Estate in Menlo Park. "Realtors even suggest that clients use them for searches and we work together on data they find there."

Some brokers have joined the online game themselves, creating their own websites for mobile devices, Barca said.

Freelance writer David Goll can be emailed at David.w.Goll@gmail.com

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