Real estate sales professionals are getting involved in Internet and other on-line marketing projects despite initial resistance.
According to data from the National Association of Realtors, the average agent is a woman over age 45 - that is, a member of just about the least computer-literate segment of the population. Still, many agents attending the trade group's convention here reported that their offices have already established Web sites and are pulling in customers.
"It's an evolutionary thing; competitive pressure is forcing Realtors to take advantage of the Internet," said Roger Umbdenstock, an executive with Coldwell Banker. Homes in the San Francisco Bay area are selling well on the Internet, with buyers hailing from as far away as China, he added.
Getting on-line was "a struggle, but well worth it," said one agent from Fairfax, Va. Sales are up 300% over last year, she said, and some of the volume is attributable to leads generated by her new Web site.
Mortgage lenders have jumped into the game through partnerships like the Virtual Mortgage Network, which makes a menu of loans available through the World Wide Web and feature video conferencing.
The mortgage network has 16 lenders signed up - four more than last year - and 500 products available. Last month the system generated $15 million in loans.
But most agents say the day when mortgage applications will be received and processed entirely over the Internet is still far off.
"People still want their hand held through the process," one agent said.
Countrywide Home Loans, Pasadena, Calif., is expecting that situation to change over the years. Its on-line site, which aims to "cross-link Realtors with customers," according to a representative, offers several products available only on the Web.
The trade group is eager to forget its troubles with its Web site, initially called the Realtors Information Network. After a tough summer, the group was busy at the convention promoting the upgraded hook-up.
The site has been renamed Spot Realtor.com, and its managing entity is now called RealSelect. The partners in the latter have not been named.
Management woes culminated in the resignation of the project's head this summer. Members of the trade group say it spent $13 million to $21 million on the project.
"The membership is so damn mad at the NAR because of the fiasco," said one agent.
The Realtors' president, Art Godi, acknowledged that the heavy outlays may have "caused a credibility gap," but he stressed that his group has a commitment to going on-line.
"The Internet is the way we'll have to go," Mr. Godi said, "but right now we're out of money."
The Web site features links to Realtors around the country, real estate news, and current mortgage rates.