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Home listings online don't tell whole story

December 04, 2008

The Internet has changed the way we buy and sell houses. Most listings of homes for sale can be found on the Internet. Realtor.com, the world's largest real estate database of homes for sale, carries information on more than 3 million listings.

According to the 2007 National Association Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 84 percent of home buyers used the Internet for information at some point during their home search. This is up from 37 percent in 1999.

Real estate Internet sites allow home buyers and sellers to peruse the inventory of homes for sale relatively effortlessly. Many sites allow visitors to set up a notification system that will alert them when new listings that fit their search criteria hit the market.

Sellers also find it useful to use the Internet to learn more about the local inventory before setting a list price for their home.

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HOUSE HUNTING TIP: There is inconsistency in the quality of what you see and read about listings online. The Internet is not regulated, so you may find that some agents adhere less to trust-in-advertising guidelines than they do in print ads. However, many professional real estate companies scrutinize their Internet advertising for accuracy before it's uploaded to the Internet.

A huge benefit of Internet home-sale advertising over print advertising is the ability to easily and inexpensively include photos. Many sites allow agents to put dozens of photos of a listing online. This gives visitors a lot more information about the property than can be conveyed with words.

A common complaint from home buyers is that some listings show no photos at all. Studies have shown that visitors often ignore these listings. They may assume that something is wrong with the property; otherwise there would be photos.

However, the fact that there are no photos, although disappointing, may be due to the fact that the agent hasn't bothered to provide them. There could be nothing wrong with the property. While this is clearly a disservice to the seller who is trying to attract as much attention to his home as possible, it's not necessarily a reason for discarding the listing.

Sellers should make sure, before they hire an agent to represent them in the sale of their home, that they will be provided with high-quality Internet advertising. It should be easy for buyers to find your home listing online. Ad copy and photos should accurately portray what you have to sell.

The quality of the photos online varies significantly depending on who took the photos and what kind of camera lenses they used. Photos taken with a wide-angle lens show more, but they can also make a room appear larger than it is. A standard lens doesn't give you the whole picture.

Dark photos may not mean the home is dark. It could indicate that the photos were taken by someone who lacked expertise.

While it might be tempting to buy a home based solely on what you see on the Internet, it's usually not a good idea. Keep in mind that you probably won't see the worst aspects of the home displayed photographically online. The Internet doesn't give you any information about how the place smells or if it's in a noisy location. It could smell moldy, or be located on a busy street or next to a freeway. Photos online may not give you a sense of how well maintained the neighbors' homes are or what the neighborhood in general looks like.

THE CLOSING: Always plan to visit any home you're interested in buying in person before you make an offer.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide," Chronicle Books.

Copyright 2008 Dian Hymer. Distributed by Inman News

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