Real Estate Websites Have Had a Major Impact on the Industry, and Insiders Say It’s Actually Quite Positive

While online listings are great, experts say more consumer education is key.

Looking at homes has never been easier, thanks in part to the plethora of real estate websites.

These websites are more than just clickbait for home addicts who love to look at houses. They provide people who are searching for homes with an easy way to filter out what they want—and don’t want—in a home.

In its 2017 report “Real Estate in a Digital Age,” the National Association of Realtors stated that in 2016, 44 percent of home buyers looked for properties online first.

“The typical buyer used a mobile device to search for properties online,” the NAR wrote. “S/he looked at websites with photos, home listings, and information about the home buying process. S/he then contacted an agent and visited a median of 10 homes over 10 weeks again in 2016 before purchasing a home.”

The momentum doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon, but while real estate websites can be helpful in their search, they are hardly the be-all and end-all of the home buying process. Sometimes information can be outdated or even inaccurate, leading to confusion and frustration in the home buying process, which has rarely been described as easy.

Enter real estate agents, brokers and Realtors.

Three experts spoke with ESTATENVY to share their thoughts on real estate websites and their impact on the industry.

The benefits—there are many!

Chicago Association of Realtors president Tommy Choi sees real estate websites as being beneficial for both the industry and the consumer.

“These sites have actually had a positive impact on the real estate industry, at least on the residential side. What it’s really done is provide more data to the consumers,” Choi said, adding that real estate websites have “created a platform that projects all of this information out to the consumer. This data now is more accessible, at the fingertips of the consumer.”

Choi, who is also a broker/owner of Keller Williams Chicago - Lincoln Park and sells and helps clients purchase under the Weinberg Choi Residential team, noted that many consumers search for homes on their mobile phones and that real estate websites have created a mobile-friendly platform that transmits data in real time.

“It’s a good tool for consumers to stay abreast of what the market is looking like,” Choi said.

Casey DeClerk, a broker with @properties who was featured in ESTATENVY’s “Young Ones to Watch” series, said that real estate websites can provide a great starting point for consumers.

“Nearly all consumers start their home search online,” DeClerk said in an email. “This allows clients to look through inventory and get a sense of what their budget can afford them. Furthermore, with photos, floor plans and video/virtual tours, many buyers can determine if a property is a fit without visiting it. It can be beneficial in expediting the search process.”

Working around challenges

Tyler Burlison, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Synergy, noted that while real estate websites can be efficient and convenient and provide easy access to information, imprecise information can present challenges.

“Oftentimes the data on these sites can be incorrect or inaccurate, their estimated values have a substantial standard deviation and are oftentimes extremely incorrect which leads to consumer confusion,” Burlison said in an email.

Whenever a consumer sees a property online they have an interest in, experts say the first thing they should do is reach out directly to their agent or broker.

“Consumers can navigate listings on these sites but I would have them reach out to their broker to verify the accuracy,” DeClerk said in an email.

Consumer education

This is why even just a little bit of consumer education can go a long way.

Real estate agents can tackle any issues that may arise due to outdated information posted on these websites simply by personally advising their clients and encouraging them to reach out with questions.

“I explain to clients that these websites can be very user-friendly as they are marketing websites but they should to send any questions or verify information directly with me,” DeClerk said in an email. She added that the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the most accurate source of inventory and data which only licensed brokers have access to.

Choi echoes this and urges consumers to check with their agent before getting their hopes up.

“My tip would be always to check back with your Realtor to make sure that the data is accurate and, more importantly, current,” Choi said.

Agents remain key

As popular as real estate websites can be, experts don’t believe they’ll eliminate the need for an agent. Choi, in fact, believes these websites have “really upped the value of the Realtor.” Having so much information out there is great, but having a professional advisor to help digest and understand the information has raised the standards and value of a Realtor, Choi said.

Burlison doesn’t believe agents should in any way feel as if their jobs are in jeopardy due to the existence of real estate websites.

“These websites have had a tremendous impact on the industry,” Burlison said in an email. “Most agents feel threatened by new web companies, but the truth is they have tremendously helped our business from an efficiency standpoint. The agent has remained an absolutely critical part in the process, and these sites have simply made things easier and more convenient.”