The Net Finds A Home Listings on the Web: House hunters can broaden their search by using the Internet, as the real estate market heads for cyberspace.

November 26, 1995|By Daniel H. Barkin | Daniel H. Barkin,SUN STAFF

The real estate market in the Baltimore region is hurtling into cyberspace. Increasingly, house hunters can start their search by dialing into the Internet, where the number of local listings is expected to mushroom over the next two months.

The largest real estate brokers in the area are either already on the World Wide Web -- the graphics-laden portion of the Internet that features thousands of visually appealing "pages" -- or will be there very shortly.

Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., the mid-Atlantic region's largest real estate company, with 5,800 agents, plans to launch its electronic home page on the Web by Thursday. The site (http://www.longandfoster.com) is expected to initially have 400 to 500 listings, according to Rich Boornazian, director of Long & Foster's information services department. Before long, it will have 3,200 to 4,000 homes on its site, about 20 percent of the broker's Maryland and Virginia listings, he says.

O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, which is the largest locally owned broker in the Baltimore region, is proceeding on two tracks: It is working to develop its own home page, and it will also put its listings on the new Realtors Information Network (RIN) Web site being developed by the National Association of Realtors.

Thousands of Baltimore-area homes for sale are scheduled to be listed on the RIN site (http://www.realtor.com) in early January. The Baltimore region's multiple-list service -- Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies Inc. -- will be capable of transferring its for-sale listings to RIN's computers by then, according to MARIT executive vice president Warren Tunkel.

But Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty has already had its home page for three months, and has been running the site's address (http://www.grempler.com/pub/grempler) in its newspaper ads. Grempler has for several years had its own computer bulletin board with home listings, the Comp-U-Home system, which it still is operating. "It's another way to get exposure to 40 percent of the market," said D. R. Grempler, president of the company, referring to the percentage of homes with modem- equipped personal computers. His firm has 2,000 properties listed on the Web.

Long & Foster's Mr. Boornazian says that even though the real estate industry has traditionally been "3-5 years behind the technology curve," home-selling has become a growing presence on the Web. He is aware of some 1,500 real estate Web sites for companies throughout the U.S. and the world.

That's not surprising, since real estate is an information-rich industry that has already computerized its data in local multiple list databases from coast to coast. Realtors and brokers -- as well as droves of site designers -- are gradually coming to see that the data already sitting in MLS computers can be adapted quickly to the World Wide Web.

"We said, 'Hey, we ought to start looking at this thing,' " Mr. Boornazian said.

Agents will be charged a fee for listings, which Mr. Boornazian declined to disclose.

"It's agent-dependent," Mr. Boornazian said. "Agents decide what to put on and what not to put on."

And that's one challenge facing the largest brokers, such as Long & Foster. The average age of Realtors is over 50, Mr. Boornazian notes, and many of the older, most experienced agents have not embraced computers. However, most first-time homebuyers are in their 20s. They were toddlers when the first personal computers made their underpowered appearance in the late 1970s, and they have used them throughout school and on the job. To many house hunters in their 20s and 30s, computers are just another appliance.

In the past couple of years, personal computers have become easier to use and fast modems have become standard equipment. The Internet -- once the preserve of scientists, advanced computer users and government agencies -- is now widely accessible with easy-to-use browser programs that make cruising the World Wide Web relatively simple and inviting. Each year, hundreds of thousands of computer buyers are finding their way onto the Web through services provided by CompuServe, America OnLine, and, now, Microsoft.

Real estate companies are not just putting listings on the Web sites. They are also advertising affiliated mortgage and title companies. Long & Foster will have agent profiles, with pictures and background information.

While the largest local brokers are rushing to get their companies on-line, they have few illusions about the Web.

For one thing, while the Internet can be accessed globally, real estate -- at least in the late 20th century -- is still primarily a local market. Few Australians are tapping into Grempler's site looking for four-bedroom homes in Carroll County. Except for families relocating here from around the country or world, most people trolling through Web sites for Baltimore region homes already live here, brokers say.

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