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RISMEDIA, Feb. 22, 2007-It is 2007, and the Internet is more powerful than ever. With companies like Google and Yahoo! now in the real estate space, competition is only going to get stiffer, and if real estate professionals don't get onboard, they might just get left behind, say many prognosticators. In this month's Viewpoints, three top execs ponder the Internet's place in real estate, as well as how industry professionals should take hold and embrace the online world.

How will the Internet and Internet-based vendors change real estate?

An Agent's True Value

Martin J. Rueter
President
Weichert Real Estate Affiliates
www.weichert.com

Remember the wringing of hands when the "secret information" we call listings started going online for everyone to see? Well, any lingering fears can be put to rest. The Internet has been good for the consumer and-surprise!-a real positive for our industry.

Clearly, the consumer considers the Internet a more convenient source of information than the real estate agent. But the consumer isn't using this technological tool as a substitute for the insight and higher level of information that a good agent brings to the process. Buyers are using the Internet to get a sense of the market and to narrow down the possibilities by saying "no" to many properties. But when they get to the "maybes," they want to talk to a professional agent.

Now that agents are no longer the gatekeepers for information, the definition of a real estate professional has, in fact, elevated. The Internet is playing a major role in forcing agents to become more knowledgeable and service focused. When a buyer calls about a property, the agent can't just recite MLS data that the buyer has already read online. The buyer wants first-hand insights into that home, that community and that local market. The buyer wants to know about getting a mortgage and the other steps entailed.

People don't use the Internet to make their ultimate inspection of the property, to present an offer or do their negotiating. Buyers look to the agent to be an advocate on their side-which ties right into buyer representation.

On the seller side, wouldn't it be wonderful if you could price a property simply by adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing? But how do you quantify an exquisite restoration or an end-row townhome location with a view of the forest? For that depth of expertise, the consumer relies not on a Web site, but on the expertise of the real estate professional.

The companies that understand the Internet as a marvelous tool will continue to do well. I think Weichert, Realtors got it right with Weichert Lead Network, which humanizes the contact. People searching online can call an 800 number and, in that same phone call, get handed off to a knowledgeable agent, familiar with the listing that interests them.

Looking ahead, I believe real estate Web sites will become one-stop sites, where the mortgage product is not just a link, but intertwined with the listing. Increasingly, the consumer will view real estate professionals not as salespeople, but as highly informed advisors/facilitators able to guide them through a complex process.

So instead of wringing our hands, let's give loud applause to the Internet! It's helped our industry appreciate where our value really lies.

Individualizing Your Property Web Sites

Paul Sheng
CEO
iHOUSE Web Solutions
www.ihouseweb.com

Widespread consumer adoption of the Internet as the go-to resource when researching products and services has definitely altered the type of tactics used to promote property listings.

In the past year, Internet companies in the real estate industry have aggressively responded to the much-cited statistic that some 80% of home buyers begin their property search online by adding new Internet channels and promotion tools for agents to add to their listing promotion plans.

In the last year, several real estate property search Web sites joined Realtor.com in competing for the large amount of Web traffic generated by real estate property searches. Oodle, an online classifieds company, provides a nationwide searchable directory of available properties that link back to the listing profile page hosted on the listing agents' own Web site. Start-up Trulia made a splash by offering neighborhood information and detailed profiles of each listing. They have quickly staked out an influential role in this category.

Even more recently, Internet juggernaut Google targeted the real estate space by enhancing the property search functionality of Google Base, its entry into the online classifieds category. Leading real estate Web site hosting companies, including us at iHOUSE, work directly with these companies to provide their agents with an easy way to submit their listings to expand their online promotion reach.

Given that new, free online marketing avenues have opened up, real estate agents are seeking engaging new ways to market their individual property listings on the Internet. Many agents have started turning to dedicated single property Web sites-Web sites that showcase a property, rich with content and information exclusive to the listing.

There are numerous real estate marketing-solutions companies offering single-property listing Web sites-including iHOUSE with the recent launch of Spotlight. These products offer an affordable, template-based, turnkey Web site for individual property listings.

Individual property Web sites don't just make the property extremely easy to find online, they also provide the competitive edge for listing presentations. An agent can create a free sample Web site to show the prospective seller. It's an extremely compelling presentation, the seller viewing their home as a Web site with photos and special details included. Once the agent gets the listing, they "publish" the Web site using the physical street address as the domain name URL (i.e. www.321SpotlightStreet.com).

The Internet has permanently changed the way home buyers behave-the percentage of people who rate the Internet as "very important" in helping them choose a home to buy will continue to rise. While we understand that the rapid pace of change in technology can be daunting, we and our Web marketing solution peers are here to help successful agents make these technological developments work to their advantage in promoting their listings online.

The Speed of the Internet

Scott Hoen
Executive Vice President and Group Manager
Fidelity National Real Estate Solutions (FNRES)
www.realestate.fnf.com

The Internet and Internet-based vendors are simply responding to the demands of consumers for more information. Consumers want more information and they want it when it's convenient for them. Real estate professionals are seeing the speed at which this information flows and realizing that they have to adapt to that speed by moving at this pace-or move aside.

Information that is readily available through the Internet is not a threat to real estate professionals, but an asset that they can take advantage of and leverage to better communicate with their prospects and clients. Home sellers want as much exposure for their property as possible, and real estate professionals have far more tools available to them to provide this exposure. The Internet is providing far greater exposure to property listing data and other real estate-related information to more consumers than ever before.

The Internet and Internet vendors are also allowing for a more thorough information exchange of neighborhood facts, public and private school details, home evaluations, aerial imagery, parcel boundaries and much more.

With all the increased information and Internet-based systems comes the challenge of determining what works and what doesn't. What saves time or increases the real estate professional's bottom line? The challenge of determining a return on investment for the technology used will also become more evident. Lead generation and lead-management tools that interface with the consumer are only as good as the information collected or entered into the system. The point of using technology is to put the real estate professional in a position in which the consumer knows where to go for help and assistance with buying or selling their home.

Eighty-five percent of homeowners today aren't moving, but they do want to know what is happening with their real estate asset. What is the value? Is it going up or down? What did the neighbor's house sell for? Does the consumer call a stock broker for this assistance or do they rely on the real estate professional in the market area? The Internet and Internet vendors are simply another resource to help real estate professionals provide the information consumers want and need, and when the consumer is ready…they will know what agent to call to assist them with the transaction.

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