Real Estate: Tech-savvy homebuyers flipping script for realtors

01/07/2012 7:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Colony Real Estate saleperson Dolores Peterson uses a website called www.listingbook.com on her smart phone where she can track who is viewing her listings all the while she monitors her facebook page in the office in Jamesport.

Tom Schenkel of Garden City didn’t want to buy a house on the North Fork.

He and his wife, Regina, had long dreamt of owning a second home in the Hamptons, close to the beach and spacious enough for overnight visits from their children and grandchildren.

Ms. Schenkel, who according to her husband “spends an inordinate amount of time on the Internet,” scoured real estate-oriented social networking websites in search of the perfect abode.

But when a house in Laurel popped up, the Schenkels altered their searching strategy, fell in love with Long Island’s other fork and eventually purchased a two-story split-level in Cutchogue. To seal the deal, they used a North Fork-based broker, whom they hired after seeing his advertisement repeatedly on different sites.

“We probably wouldn’t have ended up on the North Fork without these [social networking] websites,” Mr. Schenkel said.

The Schenkels’ story is one example of how the proliferation of social networking websites geared toward the real estate industry has changed the way realtors and customers interact and the way people shop for homes.

Jerry Cibulski of Century 21 Albertson Realty in Southold, whom the Schenkels found through social networking sites, said the advent of such websites has cut realtors out of the information-gathering phase of buying a home.

Potential customers used to “show up at the office saying, ‘I’d like to buy a house and I’d like you to help me figure out what it is and where it is,’ ” he said. “Now, there’s so much information available, it swings the pendulum in the other direction. There’s so much information available, customers think they can do it without an agent.”

The Schenkels perfectly fit the archetype of the newly informed buyer. They’d done their research, narrowed down what they wanted in a second home and came to Mr. Cibulski’s office as serious customers, armed with printouts of homes that best fit their needs.

Plenty of customers come into local offices with information and copies of listings they’ve seen on Trulia.com and Zillow.com, two sites that allow users to search listings, view photos and videos of available houses and compare market data with similar homes in different neighborhoods.

At ActiveRain.com, another real estate site, users can create profiles and search for homes, blog and chat with real estate brokers across the country.

In one respect, these sites relieve realtors of extra work up front and allow them to deal with more informed customers from the get-go, but they can pose problems for brokers when the information isn’t accurate.

“They’re big, worldwide sites and sometimes the local information isn’t exactly right,” said Marie Beninati, co-owner of Beninati Associates in Southold. “When someone new comes into our marketplace and says, ‘Well, Zillow said this house is only worth $500,000,’ we have to go through why the house is worth more. It’s a bit of a challenge.”

A few local realtors interviewed say they and their colleagues are increasingly using Facebook to communicate with clients. They’ll create business pages for themselves and post listings and updates when, say, an asking price is reduced.

Dolores Peterson of Colony Realty in Jamesport has long posted her listings on her business page on Facebook, and recently began posting them to her personal Facebook page as well. She realized how effective the blending of personal and professional Facebook lives can be when her niece saw one of her listings in December 2010. The niece, who lived with her husband and children in Westbury, hadn’t thought of relocating to the North Fork until she saw the post.

Five months later, she closed on a colonial in Aquebogue and was moved in by the summer.

“A couple of colleagues suggested putting listings on Facebook for friends and relatives to take a look,” Ms. Peterson said. “I said, ‘Ah, what the heck, I’ll try it’ — and it worked!”

More tech-savvy home-seekers and realtors can use Kondoot.com, a website that allows users to record and transmit videos in real time. Realtors can use the video feature on their smartphones to record houses for customers to view from their own homes — or anywhere — on their smartphones.

Local realtors suspect showing houses virtually through Kondoot, which launched in the United States last month, won’t gain much traction on the North Fork and will likely be more popular in busier, bustling metropolitan areas. Many agreed that potential North Fork homeowners want to see the area, a tourist destination, firsthand.

After all, Ms. Peterson asked, how else could customers taste locally picked apples or purchase a locally brewed cup of coffee and get a feel for the place?

“Sometimes the old-fashioned way works a whole lot better,” she said.

sbrix@timesreview.com

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