Spring Real Estate 2009

Publication Date: Friday, April 24, 2009

Web blogs re-shape real-estate market
Readers near and far gather in-depth information

If cyberspace can be saturated with blogs on just about every topic from music to cupcakes, it's no surprise to find that real estate taken up by -- real estate.

Just as it has done with so many other industries, the Web has worked to reshape the real-estate market.

It is now possible to tour a home on a computer screen. One streaming video embedded in a post on the Silicon Valley Real Estate Blog has Realtor Alex Wang showing his 4467 Billings Circle listing in Santa Clara. The video begins by first roaming around the surrounding neighborhood and local shopping center before settling upon Wang, who proceeds to narrate a video tour of the house.

"Coming from a real-estate standpoint, it's a great way to disseminate information," said Wang, who heads up the Palo Alto-based Rainmaker Properties.

Kevin Boer, who founded 3 Oceans Real Estate in Menlo Park and started a blog under the same name, said real-estate blogs are not only a great way to reach a wide audience with the click of a mouse, they also provide "the kind of insight you're not going to get in a national publication."

"It's much more focused," he said of his blog and others. Just like the Realtors that run the blogs, the postings themselves deal with a finite area. The better the blog, the more in-depth coverage of specific neighborhoods and listings.

Ethan Henry, who moved to the Bay Area from Ontario, Canada, to work for a "well-known search-engine company," used both the major-listings service Redfin.com and the localized knowledge of the Silicon Valley Real Estate Blog to find his current home in Sunnyvale.

Henry knew many friends and professional contacts living on the Peninsula and knew that the Bay Area had a very hot real-estate market. He also knew that finding the right home could prove to be a challenge.

"I wanted to get a better sense of the lay of the land, which is hard to do from Toronto," he said. "Looking at listings from the other side of the continent is one thing, but to see what the actual tenor of the market was, you need more detail."

Redfin would "list X houses for sale for Y dollars," he said. "That's a lot of raw data, but you need qualitative information too." For Henry, the blogs were "a great asset to get a sense of the market."

Visitors to Boer's site have the option of chatting live with the Realtor over the Google Talk instant-messaging service. He said he is tied to his computer most of the working day and is willing to give real-time IM advice to any interested party.

Both the 3 Oceans and Silicon Valley Real Estate blogs employ Google maps to show users where listings are geographically. They allow users to organize the map listings by price and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Boer's site can even show which houses have been foreclosed on, how many days a listing has been on the market and filter by the year the homes were built.

The world of blogging doesn't just help buyers and sellers. It also benefits Realtors.

"The blog can provide a deeper understanding of who I am," Wang said. In the modern world of real estate, where online postings make it easy for the consumer to hone in on properties of interest, the biggest reason for choosing one Realtor over another is confidence that the Realtor can get the job done.
Boer agrees with Wang. Since starting his 3 Oceans blog he has noticed that prospective customers reach out to him differently.

"It's not just some random phone call and they got your name out of a newspaper and they're calling to find out more about you," Boer said. "People know a lot about you before they even call."

The key to earning the trust of a person buying or selling a home is posting consistent, accurate and compelling information regularly, Boer said. Because of the sheer volume of real-estate blogs out there, new sites run the risk of being overshadowed by more established blogs.

"If you're starting a blog right now, you better be a good writer and you better have something really compelling to talk about," Boer said.

"Ultimately it comes down to providing something valuable for the readers to read," Wang agreed.

In the interest of bringing readers the best information possible, Boer helped start a blog amalgamator of sorts. HomeScopes.com uses RSS -- an abbreviation for "really simple syndication" -- to funnel posts from multiple Bay Area real-estate blogs into one place. On HomeScopes, readers can read the posts assembled there or link to the individual blogs of contributors to find out more about a particular Realtor or area.

When all is said and done, both Boer and Wang agree that real-estate blogs help educate every party involved -- buyers, sellers and Realtors alike -- and also save time. Still, while the Internet may have changed the way people look for homes, it will never change the gravity of the process.

"This is probably the largest purchase you'll make in your lifetime," Wang, who has a background in psychology, said. "It's an emotional process. Being educated and having somebody guide you through it is important."

Another thing that real-estate blogs won't change is the concept that is embedded in the very name of the industry -- the real. Properties are tangible, and no matter how slick a blog may be, there is no substitute for going to a house in person.

"I would never buy a house without getting in there personally and going over it with a fine-tooth comb," Henry said. "Blogs can help you figure out which houses you don't want, though."