Chris and Becki Ashby were living in Germany when they started their search -- via the Internet for a Valley
Rachel Davis Mersey
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 12, 2002
Shopping for clothing, books or airline tickets online is altogether commonplace.
But how about taking to the Internet for larger purchases, say a home? The Web as a home-buying tool is easily accessed and inexpensive.
Time was of the essence for Becki Ashby, who started house hunting via the Internet when she and her husband, Chris, an Air Force major, were living in Germany. The couple didn't want to wait until landing in the Valley to start their search.
From Germany, they sought a four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath Valley home with a three-car garage and, if possible, a pool, and took to the Web, relying on sites such as www.realtor.com .
"Looking at homes over the Internet gave us a good idea of what we might have to spend for what we wanted," Becki Ashby said.
"The basic idea used to be that the real-estate agent was the gateway to the market," said Jay Q. Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center and associate professor of real estate at Arizona State University. "Consumers had to rely on them, but now the Internet allows you to gather information."
With sites such as www.azcentral.com/hbc , a local home searching tool of The Arizona Republic produced in cooperation with the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, you can request a certain school district, price range or type of property - the choice is yours.
Search by square feet, number of rooms, or city.
"It's really changed the way people approach home buying and selling," said Phoenix-based Bryan Schutjer, who is the president of iMove.com, part of the realty group of HomeStore.com.
A National Association of Realtors survey conducted last year revealed that 67 percent of home buyers plan to use the Internet as a source of information.
"If you think about all the influences about a home purchase - price, commute time, school district, other demographic details - all that information can be found at one resource," Schutjer said. "It all starts with education."
Buyers can find details about available homes and occasionally about virtual tours before they even hit the open-house circuit.
These changes in the traditional home-buying system have led to emergence of a new kind of real-estate agent known as an e-PRO, certified by the National Association of Realtors as an Internet expert.
The Ashbys, looking to move forward with the home-buying process, hooked up with husband and wife real-estate team
"G-II" Varrato II and Lori
Klindera. Lori & G-II, online Realtors (a k a "e-PROs") with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Phoenix, began working in the online environment in the early 1990s.
Their business, now exclusively Internet-based, targets clients living out of the country and first-time home buyers.
"The lion's share of the consumers today looking on the Internet are Gen-Xers," said
G-II, who maintains and designs their Web site, www.realestateinphoenix.net.
To foster the relationship with clients, many of whom he and Lori never meet,
G-II developed a discreet client salon, or DCS, where active clients can log in and see the homes that the real- estate team has selected for them.
"The security of the Web site makes them feel more comfortable," G-II said. "We've built this for them. We help them search out homes unique to their specifications."
Lori then will go out and take digital photos, which are posted to the client's DCS.
"The pictures told a thousand words," said Becki Ashby. "Plus, Lori & G-II's descriptions helped a lot. We went a lot on 'Internet curb appeal.' "
The Ashbys and their e-PRO team also established an e-mail relationship to ask and answer questions.
"Even though we only spoke on the phone a couple of times, we always felt like we were dealing directly with
Lori & G-II the person," Becki Ashby recalled. "They always responded very quickly to our e-mails, was very friendly, and established a trusting relationship from the beginning."
When the Ashbys found a house suited for them, they made an offer to buy contingent on their viewing and approval.
Paperwork, including contracts and loan documents, was posted conveniently to their DCS for downloading or was faxed.
During a trip to Phoenix to view the major homes in contention, Ashby made her final decision to buy the house on which the couple had made an offer.
"The feel of actually driving through the neighborhoods and up to the houses was what had the first big initial impact on my decision," Ashby said, adding that she thinks they would have lost the home to another buyer if they hadn't made the offer from Germany.
"It's interesting that even though you can't feel those things from looking over the Internet, I did end up choosing online the same home I chose in person," she said. "This proves how valuable a tool the Internet can be in finding the right home."
Some of the e-PROs' clients, like Don and Karen Curtiss, who never have the opportunity to set foot on American soil before they buy, must rely on their computer screen for viewing.
"When we thought we liked something, they would shoot a roll of pictures, load them to the site, and my wife and I would view them," said Don Curtiss, who started out with 35 to 40 homes on his original list from Varrato and Klindera. "If we liked what we saw, we would print them in color and put the house back together somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle."
It took the Curtisses, working more than 8,000 miles away, in Saudi Arabia, eight months to find and purchase their two-bedroom condominium in Mesa.
"We read the descriptions, looked at the pictures, used Internet mapping to help us understand where our choices were with respect to other landmarks, and used the Net to provide all the other background information," Don Curtiss said.
Curtiss eventually relied on his sister and brother-in-law living in Goodyear to act as his eyes and ears for the final three selections.