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Buyers find their new homes on home pages

Realtor associate Gail Spada of Coldwell Banker Alliance Realty of Brooksville posted a visual tour of a resale home in the gated community of Silverthorn on her Web site. Somewhere in Europe, a browser looking to relocate to the United States tapped into it.

"We chatted mostly by e-mail," Spada said of the potential buyer. "He'd not ever seen the house. He purchased it on the Internet."

That's the way Spada likes to expeditiously sell property, and it's not the first time, she said.

Spada, with 16 years of experience in real estate appraisals and sales, said the buyer paid 97 percent of the asking price - $350,000 cash without a mortgage.

Said Spada's boss, Alliance president Marilyn Pearson, "All of the marketing things are still there, (but) you definitely have to have an Internet presence."

Gary Budek of Re/Max Advantage, the president of the Hernando County Association of Realtors, agreed.

"The Internet market is definitely what most consumers are leaning to these days as there's more information available to them," he said. "Buyers are more in tune with Internet information."

Pearson cited the Internet's abundance of information as a reason home buyers utilize it.

"(Buyers) can look at schools, etc., glean information prior to coming to a neighborhood, access business services or whatever," Pearson said..

"National statistics show 72 percent of all buyers shop online first before they select their Realtor," she said, " . . . The consumer is definitely more educated (before coming to look at a property)."

With Internet access, she added, "You can shop six months ahead of the time of when you're relocating or retiring."

Of course, few houses remained on the market that long during the past year.

"Sometimes you had only a matter of hours (to make an offer)," Budek said .

With the increase in residential construction, Pearson said, the market is leveling out from what Budek said was a 30 percent increase in value of already-built homes last year.

Resales will be competitively priced this year, Pearson predicted.

"In 2006, we expect a more stable market and getting back to what we term a normal marketplace," she said.

Potential home buyers - such as those seeking to escape the Tampa Bay metro area for a more rural setting, and the continuing influx of retirees from the North - will find an expanded inventory of homes this year and mortgage interest rates averaging a comfortable 6.3 to 6.8 percent, Budek said.

Hernando County Property Appraiser Alan Mazourek said 5,540 single-family homes sold for an average of $155,000 last year.

The greatest demand, Mazourek said, was for homes priced from $125,000 to $150,000.

For people in the current market - new retirees, commuters, local residents upsizing or downsizing - the demand is for homes under $250,000, smaller abodes than before the real estate boom of the past couple of years. Fewer amenities, such as a pool, are a requisite for many buyers, Budek said.

The market is changing some, becoming more of a buyer's market, he said. Sellers may have to trim their profit expectations.