There are plenty of Web sites out there that have free home searches on them. Some of the sites mention "free" more than once. I have been doing some research, and I am not finding any sites where I am expected to pay money to search for homes. I wonder why so many sites use the words "free home search." Is it someone’s idea of transparency?

There are plenty of Web sites out there that have free home searches on them. Some of the sites mention "free" more than once. I have been doing some research, and I am not finding any sites where I am expected to pay money to search for homes. I wonder why so many sites use the words "free home search." Is it someone’s idea of transparency?

Some Web sites have free home searches on them but to get to the free home search the user must fill out a form. They want a name, e-mail address, phone number and often have a short survey that includes questions like: "Do you have a lender?" and "Are you using this site for buying or selling?"

I don’t understand why people fill out the form when they can go most anywhere on the Internet and find a "free home search" where they can search without filling out a form. My theory is the people who fill out the forms are not savvy consumers. Why give up privacy to shop online? Amazon.com doesn’t make me register to price out a camera lens, or just look at the pretty pictures. They seem to be doing just fine, and they don’t even have the faces of employees plastered all over the site.

Realtors are taught to "capture Internet leads," and few question the concept. If I look at it from a consumer’s point of view it sounds scary to me. I picture agents hiding behind their bus benches and jumping out when a consumer walks by. What do they do with the lead when they capture it? Do they have a room somewhere full of the people they captured?

The Internet is full of tricks and traps. Filling out any kind of online form is risky. The e-mail addresses can be used for drip e-mail campaigns. I call those campaigns spam, and usually block them or use the opt-out feature. When I have to fill out an online form to get what I want I use bogus information if I don’t want to be contacted.

I once ran two identical home-search sites. One was mine and the other belonged to another agent. His site required users to sign up and mine did not. His site captured more leads than mine did but the first four leads that resulted in closed sales came in though my site. His site captured data: In fact, even Mickey Mouse signed up and left a bogus e-mail address.

My Web sites don’t require any kind of registration but people register anyway, and most of my business comes in through the Internet. With my first real estate Web site, I had to argue with the vendor to get the required sign-up feature turned off. They disagreed with my strategy, and still do, yet it has served me well.

I had two recent closings. Both were with buyers who found me through the Internet, and in both cases they captured me. One buyer called; the other sent an e-mail; and after a few conversations they were under contract and we were out house-hunting.

No one wants to become a lead, or be captured. Internet-savvy consumers see through our tricks and deceptions, like "free home search." It is possible to be more transparent and to treat consumers with respect and win their business without capturing them or deceiving them. They can be attracted with honesty and transparency, through easy-to-find Web sites that are consumer-oriented and packed with useful information.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog. Boardman will speak at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco, July 23-25, 2008. Register today.

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