Why wouldn't real estate agents want their prospective clients and customers to turn to the Internet for information about houses?
Good question, says Bob Hale, president of the Houston Association of Realtors, the second-largest local Realtor association in the country, with more than 25,000 members.
"Eighty-nine percent of buyers look at listings online before they contact a Realtor," he told the National Association of Real Estate Editors in Dallas recently. Seventy-five percent want to track their transaction online. Consumers think the information they find online "is at least as good as a Realtor's information," Hale said.
A survey conducted by his association showed that just 65 percent of buyers use a Realtor only. So again, why wouldn't you want to have your listings out there?
Speaking of those online listings, "Why does it take 24 hours to get a price changed on the MLS?" asked Errol Samuelson, president of Realtor.com. If we can watch the price of a stock change, second by second, what's the problem with changing a home price quickly?
Much as we say the Internet has made life easier for homebuyers, "no one site has it all," Samuelson said, "and consumers have to look at seven different sites" to find the information they want. "That's cumbersome."
The next leap forward will be making data available on mobile devices so consumers who are driving around looking at for sale signs can get facts instantly, Samuelson and other real estate technology panelists said.
About 64 percent of consumers expect agents to respond to their calls or e-mails within four hours, Samuelson said, and a smaller number expect an immediate response.
"Consumers expect more, they want it to be free, and they want to have a voice in it," said Justin McCarthy of Google. "They want to be part of the refining process, and they want it pristine," i.e., they know the difference between advertising and editorial material.
"They want information, they want complete data, they want control and they want anonymity," said Jorrit Van der Meulen of Zillow.
Zillow.com, the real estate site that offers market values and prices on recently sold homes, also runs ratings of lenders, with consumer comments on quality of information and service, including how fast they responded to mortgage applicants' queries.
What's next? Bob Hale hinted at Realtor ratings, like the Zagat restaurant ratings. In an industry that's based heavily on referrals and word of mouth, why not?
Judy Stark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8446.