New Web site offers more tools for buyers Data from 63 markets, 7,000 builders offered

Nation's Housing

September 20, 1998|By Kenneth R. Harney

AN IMPORTANT new, interactive shopping tool for consumers sprung to life last week with the official launch of the Internet's biggest Web site for buyers of new homes -- The Web site combines the home production, floor plans and site elevations of more than 7,000 participating builders in 63 markets, with the sophisticated software and graphics of RealSelect Inc., the company that runs the largest resale-homes listing site, is a "category killer" -- it blows away the competition with its sheer size -- in part because it literally ate its main competitor, NewHome Search Systems (, which until recently had been the largest Web site providing builder offerings and plans in multiple markets.

RealSelect purchased NewHome Search Systems in August. The builders participating in are members of the largest trade group representing the industry, the 185,000- member National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Other than, most shoppers using the Internet until now have been limited to visiting the "home pages" of individual builders. Those Web sites typically show current models and prices, but give the shopper only minimal information that's useful to make comparisons with new homes by other builders.

A visit to, by contrast, allows the shopper to approach the new-home market in a given area, and line up builders' product characteristics side-by-side:

Shoppers can search a new suburban development by price range, minimum number of bathrooms, square footage, garage size, number of floors, bedrooms, location of master bedroom and desired move-in date, among other criteria.

Say you know you're going to be transferred to the Dallas area. You're not sure exactly where you want to buy, but you're certain that you want a newly built house.

You visit, select Dallas, and you start shopping. The site's mapping graphics allow you to see the entire metropolitan area and the location of all the participating new home developments.

Five major headings

Once at the Dallas home page, you can search by any one of five major headings -- the type of home (price, bedrooms, etc.), the individual builder, the community, available building lots if you want to go custom, or by real estate agent if you want direct guidance by a new-home broker.

Depending on your criteria, the search pulls up dozens -- or a handful -- of candidates for you to check out. You can then pTC virtually visit every home by looking at floor plans, elevations, community amenity profiles (pools, tennis courts, etc.).

A particularly helpful feature of the Web site is the ability it gives to create a "shopping basket" of homes you want to know more about. Say you find eight to 10 models you especially like as you click through the search. One by one, you save your favorites in your "shopping basket." Then you fill out a single "profile" form with your name, address, phone number and home-buying objectives and moving timetable. With a click, all the builders whose plans or models you like instantly get to hear from you and can follow up with additional information.

From the homebuilders' perspective, the key to the Web site is its potential marketing strength by including most new-home offerings in every market.

Smaller builders helped

Tulsa, Okla., builder Ken Klein, who headed NAHB's builder advisory group for the project, said, "This is not only comprehensive, but it levels the playing field for builders," especially smaller ones with excellent products "who can't afford a big marketing program on radio, TV and in newspapers."

Bigger builders can still hyperlink shoppers to their own fancy Web home pages that smaller builders don't necessarily have.

Fees to builder participants are modest enough to allow even the smallest builder to afford them -- from about $75 per month per subdivision for a builder active in several subdivisions, down to $10 to $25 a month for a small-volume builder with just a few homes to sell. The service is free to home shoppers, of course.

Although launched Wednesday, is still "under construction" in cyber lingo. That means in some markets for the next month or so, complete builder listings may not be posted. At a minimum to start, according to sponsors, the Web site will offer more than 100,000 new homes for sale, covering most of the largest home-buying markets in the country.

Kenneth R. Harney is a syndicated columnist. Send letters care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.