Web revolutionizing real estate world

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— It took a year and a half before RE/MAX Realtor John Worden got the first call from his Web site.

Worden lays claim to being the first Realtor in Steamboat Springs to have his own Web page. It was the early 1990s, and Worden shared the site with Realtor Vicky Hanna. The two split the $2,000 a month cost for a Web site that was created through written code.

The Web site had been up for a year and a half, and just about the time that Worden and Hanna were thinking about taking it off the Internet, the first phone call came in, and that call turned into a sale.

It might have been the first Internet success story in Steamboat, but it is certainly not the last.

Today, Worden said his site gets 200 to 300 hits a month, which spurs about one to two actual phone calls.

"It has changed dramatically," Worden said.

Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors President Randall Hannaway said the Internet has been the most significant change in real estate in the past decade.

Hannaway, who deals with commercial and high-end properties, estimates that 20 percent to 30 percent of his business is generated from the Internet.

"I think it is vitally important today; tomorrow it will be critical," Hannaway said.

The National Association of Realtors reported that 41 percent of homebuyers nationwide used the Internet as an information source and 63 percent of the buyers said using the Internet shortened the search time for their new home.

Hannaway said five years ago, prospective buyers would ask to see 10 to 15 houses before buying, but now they usually have three to four houses picked out. And he said it is the Internet that has helped buyers narrow down the choices.

Hannaway said more than 6 percent of today's homebuyers start their search on the Internet. So, by not having a Web presence, properties could be completely ruled out even before homebuyers visit their first home.

The key ingredient now for Realtors is making sure their name appears high up on the list of search results. For a fee, some search engines will place Web sites at the top of a list of search results. And that means Realtors, along with many other commercial Web page owners, are fighting for positions on search engines, which can be costly.

"Things can get lost out there," Worden said. "There is so much more information."

But the key is also keeping users at the Web site once they get there. Worden said giving people the information they want and making it easy to find are the two keys to success.

"If our site has good content, good information, what they are actually looking for and it is easy to use, they stay there. If they get either bored or frustrated, they leave," Worden said.

Giving users the information they want doesn't just mean real estate either. Hannaway said it is a sense of lifestyle that his company, Colorado Group Realty, caters to on the Web. So, the site also includes how much snow Steamboat has received, what the trout are biting and links to different community Web sites.

"Having a great Web site with community information, as well as lifestyle as well as real estate, that is extremely important," Hannaway said.

While the Internet brings in new business, Hannaway and Worden admit that keeping a Web site can be expensive. Many companies do not have in-house Webmasters and rely on high-quality digital photographs for displaying the property and for virtual tours.

"At the end of the day, it is probably awash," Hannaway said.

As for the future of the Internet, both Worden and Hannaway see more online transactions taking place. That means being able to put an electronic signature on documents and assessing soil tests and deed titles online.

There could be paperless transactions, Hannaway said, which would save time for a real estate community where many of the clients are out-of-town buyers.

When Worden put out his first Web site in the early 1990s, he envisioned a day when buyers could purchase a house without taking their eyes off the computer screen. He still believes it can happen.

But Steamboat Springs is also experiencing another revolution of sorts in the Internet world. Hannaway said there is potential for a multiple-listing service system to go online and be accessed by buyers.

Hannaway knows of one other Board of Realtors in Colorado that has that wealth of information online.

"A lot of brokers want to have it," Hannaway said.

It is a project the Board of Realtors is undertaking with hopes of having it running by January. In the past, Hannaway said individual companies would go out on their own for listing properties on the Web. But in those cases, out of 100 listings, Hannaway said, 20 would be left out.

A comprehensive MSL would make sure everything listed on the market would have a Web presence and it would split the cost among Realtors. And for buyers, it provides an anonymous place for them to shop for a home, at home in their slippers.

"I think the big thing in what the Internet does is providing a great sense of information for the buyers," Hannaway said.

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