Bargain Network has a plan to change the way people buy homes. The Web site is putting online 200,000 home listings, including foreclosures, HUD and VA homes, hard-to-find distressed properties, and for-sale-by-owner and for-sale-by-Realtor properties. The company also publishes a catalog and offers listings and services by telephone and e-mail to its customers. A subscription is available on a monthly basis for $9.95 a week.
The company says it differs from other online services because it provides a national listing of real estate offerings and offers what it calls end-to-end real estate services, including credit standing, mortgage options, loan counseling and foreclosure services.
All this seems to have brought Bargain Network success, the company said, pointing to 50 percent growth every year since 1999 and 1 million subscribers who signed up for all of Bargain Network’s services last year. Those services also include sales of consumer electronics, jewelry and automobiles. Approximately 600,000 of last year’s million subscribers joined for Bargain Network’s Home division, the company said.
The company has jumped on the trend pioneered by self-directed, consumer-oriented Web sites like eBay, which allow users to browse through a large collection and closely define search criteria to find a product in their specific range. Users can search for homes by ZIP code, price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and type, such as lower-priced foreclosure homes or HUD homes.
While Bargain Network is reluctant to say it has oversimplified the home-buying process, to a large degree, that seems to be its appeal.
“The days of Realtors carefully hoarding their private listings are over, thanks to the Internet,” said one real estate expert.
Consumers seem to be taking advantage of the trend.
“Simply, our goal is to try to help consumers buy a bigger better home with less money,” said Ning Wang, VP for the Homes division at Bargain Network. She said the company does that through the vast numbers of listings and the subsequent services it provides.
“We introduce people to all types of listings, such as foreclosures, for-sale-by-owners and for-sale-by-Realtor listings, and these listings are updated nightly,” Wang said. “In addition we provide services to allow people to check out sales comparables for their area and find a good financing solution.”
Wang also attributed success to the how-to content Bargain Network provides to help people through the home-buying process. In mid-February the company announced it had partnered with HomeLoanCenter.com, an online retail mortgage banker, to provide home mortgage loans to Bargain Network members. The company also ties in its other carefully selected partner services, including mortgage services from LendingTree and HomeGain, among others.
That careful integration was calculated, the company said.
“Our goal is to empower our members with options that address the complete home-buying process, from finding a home to securing financing and even moving in,” said Christian Hunter, founder and CEO of Bargain Network.
The company is also trying to become a major player in the listing market by touting its customer support.
“Our whole value proposition is that we can help the consumer buy a home, from start to finish,” Wang said. People who have questions about the home-buying process or queries about how a loan application works can call the company’s 24-hour hotline.
Founded in 1996, the Goleta, Calif.-based company has approximately 500 employees. Revenues in 2002 were $35 million. Company officials said the Web site gets about 2 million unique visitors a month.
The company said the process is relatively simple. Consumers call Bargain’s telephone lines or visit the Homes section of its Web site. After signing up for a monthly subscription, members receive what Bargain Network calls objective pricing on properties, with online and telephone agents supporting the process.
The Web site compiles the majority of its real estate listings from real estate Web sites that list properties being offered directly by owners and by using proprietary Internet search engine technology to interface with online databases. That search technology includes automated search robots, known as bots, scapers, spiders and crawlers, which connect with hundreds of online retailers and auction houses.
That technology practice put the company in trouble in 2002, when Homestore.com, the nation’s largest home sales site and online listing home, accused Bargain Network of misappropriating real estate listings from the Realtor.com Web site, which Homestore manages for the National Association of Realtors.
The complaint alleged that Bargain Network used Web linking technologies to bypass the Realtor.com home Web site, then sell access to Realtor.com’s content to Bargain Network subscribers. In late 2002 the lawsuit was dismissed after Bargain Network agreed to refrain from collecting and displaying real estate listing information available on the Realtor.com site.
Wang is quick to reinforce that Bargain Network doesn’t see itself as a competitor to Realtors, however.
“We aren’t involved in the transaction business and we aren’t there to cut their commissions. We’re a referral company,” Wang said. “This is a great opportunity for (Realtors) to get their listings to an ever-growing audience of home buyers.”
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