June 20, 2013
Web-based home sales on the rise in Connecticut (Connecticut Post)
By Rob Varnon

Maryland resident Joanne Larson just sold her childhood home in Easton, and never left her house to do it and didn't use a real estate agent. She used the web.

"We've actually got a contract on it," she said by phone Monday. "Sold it very quickly."

Larson isn't anti-Realtor. Her husband is one. But when she had to sell her parents' house at 145 Staples Road, she decided to use the website Forsalebyowner.com.

It was a collaborative effort with her sister, who lives in Connecticut. They took photos and created the listing. Larson set up appointments for potential buyers to see the home and her sister would open the house for them.

"We got four full-price offers," Larson said. One of the offers was from an investor who only looked at the house online, she said.

The key was pricing the home right and to do that, she surfed the web looking at listings in Easton and concluded that many weren't priced below $400,000. So she listed at $395,000.

While Larson and others who are trying to buy and sell purely on the web are in the minority, it is clear that more and more people are slipping into the digital stream to find homes. A recent study by Google and the National Association of Realtors found that 90 percent of buyers searched online for a home in 2012.

The widespread adoption of computer-aided real estate searches is a direct result of the recession, according to buyers, sellers and professionals.

"Relocation costs: Companies aren't paying for that any more," said Doris Ghitelman, a Westport agent with William Raveis.

Before the Great Recession, it was not uncommon for firms to provide corporate housing, cover moving costs and even closing costs on a new home, she said. But most companies have not restored those perks in this economy and now people transferring into the state for a new job have to find a new home quickly or lock into a rent.

That's where the Internet comes in. She said she is working with clients from Chicago, New Jersey and Florida who don't have a lot of time to look for a home, so emailing photos, talking on the phone and hunting online are key to finding a home for them.

She said in the past she has made videos and sent those to clients and You Tube, the social video-sharing site, is popular with Realtors and buyers alike, according to Google's study.

Social media itself is helping to propel some of the digital migration of the real estate market.

Ghitelman said Pinterest, the site that allows people to grab and post a collection of images and share them, has been very effective for her in showing homes.

Social media is seen as such an important part of the business that William Raveis has a social media coordinator.

Samantha Hamilton has that job at Raveis and agreed with Ghitelman that Pinterest is one of the important sites for agents. It's a combination of the site being visual, but also because of its demographics.

"Something like 72 percent is female," she said. "Most users have a masters degree and make over $100,000."

Ghitelman said in her experience, women are the final decision makers on whether a couple buys a house or not, so it is important to reach them.

But beyond that, Hamilton said the real benefit of social media is that it's where people are.

"Ten or 20 years ago, people were talking to their neighbors, asking them, `who sold you your home?' " she said. "Today, they're going online."

Facebook and Twitter in particular provide people with access to a network of friends, family, acquaintances and associates that often spans the country and can reach into other nations. There, people can immediately tap into the experience of those in their trusted circle to get information on neighborhoods and where to live.

It's because homeowners and renters are online that realtors need to be there, too, said Todd Miller, an agent in the Fairfield and Greenfield Hill offices of the Higgins Group, an affiliate of Christie's International.

"You need to know how to use social media to open lines of communication," said Miller, a veteran of the public relations field before going into real estate.

His Facebook page is designed to educate buyers and provide more information to them about himself and the market. He uses the various channels to market properties he's selling.

Miller combines the use of traditional selling methods with the digital ones, he said. At open houses, he has people sign in and invites them to join his network. There he can get a conversation going.

"The buyers have changed. We've adapted," he said.

In many ways, an agent's role in a digital market is similar to the one they have in real time.

Brendan Grady, with Coldwell Banker's Ridgefield office said as websites started popping up, there was a theory early on that people wouldn't need agents.

"What we found is the consumer needs us now more than ever," he said.

Part of the Realtor's role involves helping clients manage the quantity of information available on the web.

One Realtor said people can get fixated on a house they saw online without realizing the home has some real problems.

Buyers today meet with realtors armed with their own lists of houses they want to see. And the sellers are better informed about the state of the market, as they are able to peruse websites like Zillow and Trulia to find information on recent sales and listing prices in their neighborhood.

Sellers who go without an agent in the digital age are having mixed results, the Realtors said.

Larson had almost immediate results using the web, but Virginia Chen, who is trying to sell 48 Carroll St. in Stamford, has not had the same success.

Listed on Zillow (a free service) at $499,000 two months ago, Chen said the only calls she has received are from Realtors hoping to land the listing. She's hoping to save the commission cost, she said.

As for Larson, she recommends people try it.

"I think more people should do it," she said.

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