BUILDING BOOM: REAL ESTATE SITES
BUT WITH SO MANY, BEWARE WEAK LINKS, INFLATED CLAIMS

By Dolores Kong
04/23/2000
The Boston Globe

Real estate Web sites give a new meaning to the phrase
"home page."

You can search the Internet for a home anywhere - from
Maine to Massachusetts, California to Colorado - by
price range or number of bedrooms or style. You can
view pictures, or even take a virtual tour. And you
can find out what comparable homes in your
neighborhood have sold for, or what your boss paid for
her new abode.

One of the newest Web sites, Domania.com, lets you
find comparable sales, estimate the value of the house
you already own, and calculate approximate property
taxes on the home you're interested in purchasing.

Formerly known as Home PriceCheck.com, Boston-based
Domania.com went online this month with financial
backing from CMGI Corp.

"We like to consider ourselves a complement to the
realtor. All parties benefit when you have an educated
consumer," said Owen Eagan, communications manager for
Domania.com.

And for people who already own a home, he said, the
Web site "allows consumers to manage their most prized
and valuable asset. They can keep track of their
home's value over time."

Other sites, such as Virtual Relocation.com and
realestate.Yahoo.com, let you check out schools and
compare cities, based on economic and quality-of-life
factors.

Some specialize in houses being sold by owners, while
one site bills itself as the leading online real
estate brokerage. All promise to save you on
commissions.

Some of the Web addresses reviewed offer links to
mortgage companies, or calculators to figure out how
much house you can afford and whether it makes sense
to pay points for a loan with a slightly lower
interest rate.

There are so many real estate sites that a
Massachusetts firm that rates Web sites limits its
latest reviews to 22 sites that offer at least 10,000
home listings nationally.

Gomez Advisors (www.Gomez.com) scores the online
home-buying sites on such factors as ease of use and
on-site resources. It also allows users to compare
sites, based on whether they are old hands at buying
homes or new to the real estate market.

But when making any kind of a purchase over the
Internet - especially one as major as a house - a
buyer must beware.
Some real estate sites offer a link to only one or two
affiliated mortgage companies, which may not
necessarily offer the best interest rates.

And some of the sites' claims - that they offer
hundreds of thousands or, in one case, more than a
million listings - may be inflated, according to a
study last year by Clareity Consulting, a real estate
consulting firm.

Here is a review of some real estate sites on the
Internet:

- www.Domania.com - With what it calls the "largest
free online bank of home sales comparables," this site
promises to "provide all the tools and information you
need to save time and money in the real estate game."

You can check sales prices from as recently as two
months ago and estimate the current value of a home
you own or project its future value, based on sales
data in your ZIP code.

An outgrowth of INPHO, a company that provided real
estate information over the phone, Domania.com remains
an information service, Eagan said.

"We're designed by homeowners for homeowners," he
said. "We're not a transaction-related site," like
those put up by real estate brokers or mortgage
lenders. You'll find no listings of homes for sale -
just data to make your real estate decision an
informed one.
Domania.com also provides data to Yahoo, America
Online, zipRealty.com, and other Internet companies.

- realestate.Yahoo.com - You can search its ads
nationwide for a home based on location, price, type
of residence (single-family or condo, for example),
and number of bedrooms and baths.

You can compare cities, based on cost of living,
median family income, average home purchase price, and
crime rates.

And there's a fun tool: You can compare salaries and
the cost of living in different cities. For example,
you can learn how much more you would need to earn in
New York to buy what you can buy with a $50,000 salary
in Boston.

The site also allows you to find a child-care
provider, research schools, hunt for a mortgage, and
calculate whether to rent or buy.

- www.Realtor.com - Earning the highest overall score
from Gomez.com, this National Association of Realtors
site boasts more than 1.3 million listings. You can
look for a mobile home in Maine or a town house in
Florida, by price range, square footage, and other
factors.
One neat feature: Each listing estimates your monthly
mortgage payment, based on 20 percent down and the
average 30-year fixed mortgage rate (7.96 percent
during this review).

This site has the most listings by far, according to
Gomez.com. But last year, Clareity Consulting found
that Realtor.com's 1.3 million figure overstated the
number of listings by nearly 100,000, according to
Realty Times, a trade publication. Realtor.com didn't
dispute that finding, explaining that market
conditions and the winter weather at the time of the
consultant's study accounted for the deviation.

- www.zipRealty.com - Newly targeting the Boston area,
this Berkeley, Calif.-based company says it's the
world's first online real estate brokerage.

Sellers and buyers who register have access to online
agents, an "escrow tracker," and loan, insurance, and
home-inspection options. Because of its lower
overhead, the company promises cash back at the close
of escrow, up to $20,000.

But because the site was just launched in Boston, on
April 2, its online calculator's finding that an
average three-bedroom, two-bath house in the Boston
area is selling for $695,744 may have been skewed.
That result was based on only 45 homes.

- www.owners.com and www.For SaleByOwner.com - These
nationwide sites target do-it-yourself sellers and
adventurous home buyers.

Owners.com offers three marketing deals: a free
one-month trial listing, with one picture; a $99
three-month basic package, with five pictures and a
customized yard sign; and a $289 three-month deluxe
package, with a virtual tour taken by a professional
photographer and an open-house kit.

ForSaleByOwner.com offers two deals: a $39.95 monthly
rate with up to six pictures, or a $99 flat rate for a
six-month listing with up to six pictures.

Both sites also offer calculators, access to mortgage
services, and other features.