Potholes to avoid on the information superhighway
Julie Garton-Good, GRI, DREI

The Internet and the World Wide Web provide you with a whole new world of real estate information--right at your fingertips! But advantages often bring an equal number of concerns. So let's explore the pros and cons of using electronic real estate information and identify precautions you can take when accessing it.

Perhaps the most obvious benefits are timeliness and accessibility. Current interest rate quotes are available in real-time and information on the latest mortgage loan options are all at your fingertips. The amount of consumer tips on making your home more affordable (like The Frugal HomeOwner™) contribute greatly to consumers reaching the "American Dream".

As with any source of data, however, you need to thoroughly check out the source and the information before taking any action. This is particularly true of real estate on the Internet, since there is no one sole source for inputting (nor policing) the information, it's not verified before being placed in cyberspace and you might come across an occasional scam (just as in other any business arena).

Here's an approach that should assist you to verify the validity of the property information you find. First, know who placed the information there. If it's a for sale by owner (FSBO) ad, is the seller willing to confirm the information with a seller's disclosure sheet about the property? What supporting data did the seller consult before "listing" his property online (comparative market analysis, appraisal, home inspection)? Is the seller willing to share that information with you?

If the property ad was placed by an associate, what additional information is the associate willing to share with you? Is there additional printed information you can receive like a seller's disclosure sheet, formal multiple listing service information sheet, etc.? Most Realtors who place information on-line have done so only after preparing exhaustive backup materials like comparative market analyses.

Only in very rare cases would a buyer purchase property sight unseen over the Internet. Most want the opportunity to "kick the tires" and confirm the data. And until the data can be confirmed, it should be treated as preliminary information.

If it's information regarding interest rates and financing, there are added cautions. For example, if you're seeking refinancing information, you may be asked to share information about yourself, such as your name, address, phone number, and amount and type of existing loan. Most lenders who use online services merely to gather introductory information from potential customers use the World Wide Web primarily as a way to make the initial contact with the customer, not sign and seal the loan application. If you're like many borrowers who want to guard personal information about themselves, make sure to only give your screen (online) name and then have the service provider reach you directly for a face-to-face or telephone contact.

It doesn't matter to what degree you apply the real estate information available in cyberspace, you must agree it's given us a dramatically increased wealth of endless real estate information--just for the ability to point and click!


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