Cover Story: The Web's Role in Real Estate Finding A Home Is More Than a Mouse Click Away

Once upon time, finding a new apartment in Manhattan began with the classified ad pages of the New York Times. Perused over Sunday morning brunch, and circled with red ink, these ads led the prospective buyer to brokers' offices, open houses, and apartment walk-throughs until the dream home was found. In the new millennium, however, the search for a home more than likely will begin at a computer terminal, on the Internet, where umbrella websites such as NYToday.com or digitalcity.com have reframed the classified ad, presenting it alongside supporting products like movers, mortgage auctions and furniture retailers. Or one could start with the web pages of an individual brokerage firm which, depending on the site, may have added features like neighborhood analyses, broker profiles, and mortgage calculators and applications, in addition to available properties. Either way, the Internet is empowering and informing buyers, and changing the face of the real estate industry.

Traffic on the Web

No one is really sure how many people are surfing the World Wide Web. Projections range from 250 million up to one billion. When it comes to real estate transactions, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) projects that 23 percent of potential home buyers nationally are looking for properties online, and that the numbers for the Tri-State area may be as high as 60 percent. Local experts say that the average real estate website gets 100,000 hits a month. "You can not exclude the Internet from your strategy for marketing an apartment," says Neil Binder, principal of Bellmarc Realty, a Manhattan luxury brokerage firm with offices throughout the Tri-State area. "The sellers demand it, and the buyers expect it."

All this surfing has led to fears of what is called "disintermediation." Translated into plain English, this is the speculation that real estate brokers will become superfluous to the home buying process, just as Internet trading has undercut the business of full-service stock brokers.

Real estate brokers aren't worried. "The Internet has totally changed the process of advertising," says Marilyn H. Kaye, president of Prudential MLB Kaye International Realty, a Manhattan based brokerage with a multi-lingual staff and worldwide affiliation. "But not the process of buying."

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