Editor’s note: Ten years ago, the first home listings were put on the Internet. In this special Inman News series, our editorial team explores the implications of this decade of online experimenting, investing and haggling.

Ten years ago, a new global movement began to displace the earliest cyber-civilizations. The glory days of electronic Bulletin Board Systems, which connected local computer users through primitive dial-up computer networks, were giving way to a new era. Neighbors and neighborhoods were going worldwide. In this latest incarnation of the Digital Age, personal interaction and business transactions would no longer be limited by geography.

The World Wide Web was born and real estate agents had a new tool for their trade–though it took them awhile to latch on to the possibilities of the Web.

Has the Web revolutionized your business? Take a survey.

David Rose, a Realtor in Morro Bay, Calif., was a member of a local nonprofit users’ group in the early 1990s. An MIT graduate who studied engineering and computer science, Rose had a leg up on other real estate salespeople when it came to technology.

The earliest versions of the Web, which were text-based, were accessible through the local BBS, Rose recalled.

“It wasn’t very interesting,” he said.

Then Web browsers evolved to allow pictures, and the content began to multiply, at first slowly, then exponentially. Even so, there was hardly a trace of commercial content.

“It was still really esoteric,” Rose commented.

In 1996 Rose decided to launch a real estate Web site.

“To the best of my knowledge I was the first (agent) to do it in the county. I didn’t get any business off of it for six months to a year,” he said.

But eventually something changed. More people began to surf the new medium, and more people were finding his Web site.

“The people who were finding me were all very interesting. They were all ‘techie’ people at first. I was ranked in the top-10 on Yahoo! for California, so I was getting a lot of interesting leads,” he said. “It was like being in a view neighborhood and having the first two-story house. I got spoiled by that, I really did. It was good–really, really fertile for me until right around 1999.” By then, the Web was becoming saturated with content and competition.

Rose’s business during the rise of the Web has shifted from real estate to real estate technology, and he now spends most of his time in Web site-related work and network support though he is still a realty agent with Coldwell Banker Liberty in Morro Bay.

Ira Serkes, a RE/MAX realty broker and longtime Berkeley, Calif., resident, was in the early 1990s a member of an online forum for RE/MAX agents on CompuServe, a pioneering national online service that AOL purchased in 1997.

“We started making lots of connections through online communities. People started sharing ideas, then they would meet at conventions, meet for coffee. We really started to make some strong friendships,” Serkes recalled.

He said he remembers his first reaction to the Web: “Holy s—!”

“I was one of the first people to recognize, at least in the early stages, that (the Web) is primarily a buyer’s tool. It really isn’t so much about listings. I saw it and I immediately got it,” he said.

Serkes said that for the first home he listed on the Web, he transferred still frames from a video camera onto his computer. “The quality was just miserable,” he said.

While Serkes said the Web is a “wonderful way of being found,” he added, ” e-mail is still the killer application” and is at the core of the Internet’s popularity.

The big fear in the early stages was that the Internet would turn real estate into a commodity like travel, airlines and hotels, he said. His feeling now is that it will never happen because the industry is so individualized.

“You can’t just turn it into a commodity like you can a widget,” he said.

Yet Serkes still expects the Internet to make the business more efficient. He thinks more mega-agent teams will close an even higher percentage of the business, there will be more integration of such services as loans with purchase contracts, and the hefty paperwork of real estate transactions will be simplified into standardized forms that can be completed quickly.

Judy Niemeyer, a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Suncoast Real Estate in Fairhope, Ala., said the Internet and communications technologies have made work easier for real estate agents though the flip side is that it also makes them infinitely more accessible.

“Unfortunately, because technology has allowed us ease of use, we can work endless hours. We are very married to our cell phones, computers, BlackBerrys and pagers. We need to set aside time to be with ourselves, our families and life,” Niemeyer said. She expects to see an increasingly wireless world as a result.

Dee Dee Trosclair, a Realtor for Keller Williams Realty in Dallas, said the Internet has empowered home buyers, giving them more control over their home search and offering a broad education about the buying process. But the Internet also has a lot of online “noise” that can be difficult for consumers to sift through.

“Companies that are not in the real estate business are capturing leads and inserting themselves into the transaction by selling leads to agents who are willing to work their programs,” she said.

Heather Farquhar, a Realtor for Dilbeck Realtors GMAC in Sherman Oaks, Calif., likened the Internet to a 24/7 Open House.

“People come in and out, some want to talk and some just want to be left alone to surf in peace.”

She added that more people are finding a Realtor on the Web.

“By the time I meet most of my clients face-to-face we have formed a relationship through e-mail,” she said.

Farquhar also said that many of her sales are fueled by her Web site or other Web sites where she advertises and that Internet technologies allow her to receive almost instant updates on property listings.

“The Internet has sped everything up,” she said. “I suspect that any Realtor who doesn’t keep up or catch up to technology will soon be looking for other employment.”

Fran Vernon, a Realtor with Dilbeck Realtors GMAC Real Estate in La Cañada, Calif., also said the Internet is creating pre-educated home buyers.

“It’s made our job infinitely easier,” she said. “I’m still amazed by it. I can’t wait to see what the future brings–for our business and for the Internet as a whole.”

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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