Cyberspace FSBOs

March 1, 1996

It sounds like a salesperson's worst nightmare: Homesellers go on-line to offer their property to millions of Internet users instead of hiring a practitioner who can put their listing on the MLS.

But in real life, for-sale-by-owners (FSBOs) who choose the Internet over listing their properties with salespeople may see even less response than owners who advertise in local FSBO magazines. FSBOs aren't having an easy time online, so farming on-line may turn out to be a lucrative niche for you.

Who's trying FSBO on the Internet? Tom VanSaun, who listed his 2,700-square-foot home in Carmel, Calif., on the Net when it remained unsold after a one-year listing with a local real estate professional.

"The Internet is the coming thing," VanSaun says. When the listing ran out, I thought I'd try it. I saw the Internet as a way to reach anybody coming this way."

After a month of advertising in an on-line version of a California FSBO magazine, VanSaun had had no response from buyers. Still, 26 Internet surfers had stopped to examine his information, which includes a picture of the log-sided home, a description of its wood interior, large rooms, and forested site, and its $895,000 price tag. Nonetheless, he's now considering hiring a salesperson.

The problem for VanSaun and others may be that there aren't enough homebuyers out there with the technological knowledge to zero in on an Internet FSBO. It's still much simpler to pick up a magazine in the grocery store than it is to find an on-ramp to the information superhighway.

"It's not as easy as going into the Yellow Pages," says Edmund Shearer, who tried to sell his New Carrollton, Md., rambler on-line.

The Internet service he used to advertise the property charged $10 per month. "Not one person called me, so it's actually a wasted $10," he lamented after a month on-line. He eventually chose a more traditional route---the newspaper---but found only an unqualified buyer.

Why hasn't he hired a real estate professional? The local market is stagnant, and homes listed with salespeople aren't selling, he says. "I thought, 'Why tie your property up with a salesperson and still have it be for sale in a year?'"

Saving money was the motivation for N. Nandhakumar to go on-line to sell his Charlottesville, Va., home. He hopes to save on fees.

"What the fee bought you was access to the MLS," Nandhakumar says. "It was a high price to pay for that access. If one had Internet capability, it would be better for the consumer."

But there's not much activity on the Net in Charlottesville, he adds. And he's still waiting for a response to his Internet listing, though he has gotten responses from a FSBO print advertisement he ran.

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