September 08: Tangled up in blogs

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In real estate, just like the recently completed Olympics, it really is whether you win or lose. (Think Phelps would have had that look of beatific amazement if he’d bombed out on the eighth gold medal?) How you play the game is just a means to an end. And these days, some of the essential equipment wasn’t even part of the sport just a few years ago: a mouse, a monitor and a working knowledge of Web 2.0.

Locally and nationally, real estate blogs, forums and websites of all descriptions have proliferated and changed the industry, as buyers and sellers (and agents and brokers) have more fluid, flexible ways of getting information. In Charlottesville, someone getting ready to make a deal can bone up on buyer-broker agreements at Jim Duncan’s blog (http://realcentralva.com), watch a video entitled “How to sell your home (in black & white)” at Daniel Rothamel’s blog (http://real estatezebra.com), or peruse an aggregation of gloomy national news mixed with skeptical takes on local listings by the anonymous authors of Real C-ville —The Bubble Blog (http://realcville.blogspot.com).

And that’s just barely scratching the surface. There’s nowhere near enough space in this column to thoroughly cover the many hills and valleys of local real estate sites—especially since that landscape changes many times per day. For real estate pros, the Internet can be a great, if time-consuming, way to market themselves. Even though Rothamel’s blog is aimed squarely at the industry, for example, he says that “I still get clients who look at it and get a sense of who I am.” But what’s it all mean to your average only-sort-of-Web-savvy, pressed-for-time consumer?

First of all, it really is worth it to cosy up to the ’net when you’re getting ready to make one of the biggest transactions of your life. The data is out there, people, and even if you’re not regularly a reader of blogs or a scroller of tax records, you should become one during your buying/selling process. The anonymous bubble bloggers e-mailed us a list of online resources they like that hints at the vastness of what’s available: city and county tax assessors’ sites for property records, the Calculated Risk blog for market perspective (http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com), finance calculators like The Latte Factor, and Charlottesville Tomorrow for development savvy.

It’d be a little dumb, honestly, to turn your back on all that information. And it doesn’t take advanced ’net knowledge to take advantage of it. “If you go and type general search terms into Google, you’ll get tons of results. It’s a great way to get yourself more comfortable with the process, especially for first-time homebuyers,” says Rothamel.

Still, if knowledge is power, information alone isn’t exactly the same thing as knowledge. “Interpreting it, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” says Rothamel. “A bunch of housing stats, that’s just information. If it’s misinterpreted it’s useless.” Put on your analyst hat, and read widely to develop your own understanding of the market. You might be skeptical of a new site or one whose authors stay anonymous, like the Bubble blog, but when a respected source like Jim Duncan trades interviews with them (as he did in August), they pick up some cred.

Similarly, an agent’s blog—and more of those come along every month—is only one source about that agent; another, essential one is your own impression of her in person. “We know someone who fell in love with an agent based on a blog,” say the Bubble bloggers. “But when they met, the buyer’s dog went insane. This happened three times, so eventually the buyer switched agents.” Intuition still means something, even if it takes a riled-up spaniel to deliver the message.

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