A different home shopping network

February 27, 1994|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Special to The Sun

Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. is going high-tech -- joining a growing number of firms who are giving buyers access to their listings by computer or telephone.

Starting next week, buyers will be able to browse by telephone through the company's 18,000 listings -- 4,500 in the metro area -- or learn more about a particular property, all without talking to a salesperson.

Long & Foster, based in Fairfax, Va., is recording descriptions of its listings and letting buyers listen to them through its Hot Line telephone system, which is expected to start March 6. The company will also put code numbers on for-sale signs so buyers can call and learn more about a home that they've seen.

The system will also include information on mortgage rates and relocation.

"No matter where the buyer lives now or where they are looking to purchase a home, they can gain access to information on every home Long & Foster has for sale with just a local call," said Wes Foster, the company's president.

Long & Foster is not the first company to put its listings on-line. Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., based in Towson, allows computer users to access 2,000 -- or about 10 percent -- of its listings by computer. Several small firms run telephone systems on which sellers can list their homes -- though those are usually limited to several hundred listings. O'Conor, Piper & Flynn is considering a system similar to Long & Foster's. Long & Foster says its system would be the biggest -- that is, with the most listings -- in the country. Steve Murray, who co-edits the trade newsletter Real Trends in Denver and helped Long & Foster develop its system, said Hot Line is "easily four times bigger than any other system I know about in the country."

The introduction of Hot Line highlights a trend in the real estate business to give buyers access to more information -- from homes for sale to mortgage rates to real estate laws.

"Today's consumers want to shop around and get as much information as they can prior to making a purchasing decision," Mr. Foster said. "When they are ready to ask for personal assistance, they have already become knowledgeable about the market and properties available."

The industry is also trying to eliminate barriers between markets -- especially by creating multiple listing services for the entire state or region. The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, for example, is considering creating a multiple listing service that would include Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

After calling a local access number, callers can use the Hot Line system one of two ways:

* Browsers can search for houses by type, location and price, and get recorded descriptions of all Long & Foster properties that fit those specifications. Each property has a 30- to 40-second description of features, location, price and the name of the sales agent for the property.

* House hunters interested in a specific property may get information about it by entering its code number. After March 6, property code numbers will be included on all Long & Foster yard signs, property advertisements and the company's Sunday Showcase of Homes television show.

The hot line can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers may request to be connected directly to a salesperson. The service is free to both callers and the homeowners whose properties are listed. The number for Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County is (410) 602-1100. In Anne Arundel County, the number is (410) 224-2600. In Harford County, the number is (410) 515-2500.

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