Technology is changing the real estate business, both how properties are marketed and how people shop for them. With a variety of real estate websites and applications available, choosing what works can be a matter of trial and error. Here are some tips to help you in today's marketplace.
Web syndication of real estate information allows maximum marketing exposure through multiple sites. The goal is to entice the consumer to use and return to the website, and this traffic means advertisers are willing to pay for select placement. However, just because you see a property on a website doesn't mean it's available. The information may be wrong or out of date, so avoid jumping to erroneous conclusions based on bad data.
Data can be corrupted in two ways. First, the originating source of information cannot control how often syndication members update the data. This can be critical when looking for properties for sale and when trying to establish value.
Locally, Anchorage's public Multiple Listing Service (www.alaskarealestate.com) is the originating information source for properties for sale. When syndicated, information goes from the MLS to Point2 syndication services, where it is reformatted and sent to more than 40 other sites such as Zillow, Yahoo, Trulia and others. This usually -- but not always -- occurs as a daily update. The secondary sites may syndicate the information again, compounding any out-of-date or erroneous information. By going directly to MLS, you'll know much more quickly when a new property comes on the market or when a change occurs to that hot property you've been watching.
The second reason to be concerned about accurate information is that Alaska, unlike many other states, does not require public disclosure of home sale prices. In Web syndication, sites may offer to provide estimated property values as an incentive to visit their pages. While such a service may be accurate elsewhere, in Alaska it's not. Property values here can only be estimated by using the assessed values on public tax records. This data does not reflect actual sales, so the results are hit or miss.
Choosing real estate applications to track the market can also be confusing. The public MLS provides a link to an app that allows you to use your mobile device to get basic information on a property. With a quick download, you have a condensed version of the online information. You can create search parameters to narrow a list to just those properties that interest you and then view them on a map.
This app is also useful if you're curious about a home's "For Sale" sign as you drive by but don't know the address. Since the mobile device's GPS feature will pinpoint your location, the app makes it easy to browse the properties near you.
Another interesting application used in other industries and starting to emerge in real estate is a Quick Response (QR) Code Reader. A QR Code is similar to a grocery store's bar codes, except instead of vertical lines the QR Code is contained in a white box with a series of black squares arranged in a specific pattern. The more black squares in the pattern, the more data encoded. With minimal keystrokes to activate the QR reader on your smartphone, you can capture product information, specifics on a property for sale, or be redirected to a specific website (if you have an Internet connection).
For example, the following is the QR Code that will take you to the Anchorage Daily News website:
To create a QR Code for your business, go to http://qrcode.kaywa.com/.
Finally, just as digital storage of documents is slowly replacing hard-copy storage, soon the process of printing, signing, scanning and emailing documents will go the way of the fax machine.
The next logical step is online signatures (safeguarded by user IDs and passwords) that legally bind real estate documents. More than just an acknowledgement -- like the electronic signature used when applying for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend online -- these digital signatures appear as actual signatures on documents.
Those who use electronic signatures rave about how much easier they make signing documents. Some people are still not at ease with electronic signatures but more buyers and sellers are exploring the use. For more information on digital signatures, go to http://www.docusign.com.
Technology is changing real estate transactions but there is as yet no replacement for the personal touch of human interaction. While you may not feel comfortable with new technology, changes are happening. Knowing your options helps you choose what is right for you.
Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Anchorage Daily News. Their e-mail address is email@example.com.
BARBARA AND CLAIR RAMSEY