Exploring mountain real estate on the World Wide Web is fun and practical. A few clicks of the mouse and you can imagine yourself in the very Vermont farmhouse pictured on your screen. Or Colorado condo. Or Wyoming ranch.
"This can save the broker and the home buyer a tremendous amount of time," says David Harris, managing director of HomeNet. "What I see with the on-line real estate industry is that fewer brokers are doing more deals because of time savings. The commission rate will probably drop as well."
"The Web's major advantage," adds Richard Janssen, president of RealSelect, Inc., which runs www.realtor.com, "is that it solves a problem that consumers have had forever: There's no efficient way to window shop for homes. The Web enables people to start to educate themselves with no risk of embarrassment or burning up a lot of time."
The better Web pages let you specify parameters for your search (cost, location, square footage, etc.). Then the site's search engine brings back pictures, details on the properties and contact information for the listing agents. Increasingly, real estate agents are posting their Multiple Listing Service (MLS) on the Web. This is a departure from past practice, when the MLSs-which list all agented properties for sale in a region-were carefully controlled.
Now the trend is toward sharing information and empowering buyers. In the future expect to find panoramic viewing and "virtual walk throughs" on the better Web sites, says Harris. But don't plan on buying your property until you see it. "This does not replace driving into the neighborhood and walking through a house," warns Janssen. "The average consumer should not buy a house sight unseen on the Internet."
Because mountain towns are small, with relatively few properties for sale, many ski areas are not well represented on the Web. This should change in coming months as real estate databases become more comprehensive.
The sites listed on the following page are some of the best, but you'll definitely want to noodle around on the Net yourself. When you do, be sure to adjust the parameters in your search engine so that your hunt is specific to the precise terms you enter, rather than approximate. Also, make sure you specify that the search uses all your terms in conjunction, not just one. Otherwise, a search on "ski real estate" will bring up everything having to do with skiing and with real estate. This is especially important when searching in big areas such as Canada or California.
This site is far and away the best out there. Its backbone is a database that, earlier this winter, included 272 MLSs representing one million homes-83 percent of all homes for sale in the U.S. It also has a very detailed search engine: You can specify location, square footage, price and amenities such as fireplaces, gas heat, hardwood floors, property age and lot size. If the search engine doesn't match your criteria it will show you what's close. It features pictures, good writeups and a mapping function.
The only comprehensive, searchable database for the Tahoe, Calif., area, covering from Truckee to the Carson Valley. Indexed by town, you can search for agents, agencies or specific properties. The database promises more than 1,000 listings.
Here's a good place for links to real-estate-related sites. In addition to listing HomeNet properties, the site offers directories for real estate companies, lenders, real estate trade groups and publications, as well as a mortgage calculator and and links to sites that can help you find out about area schools. Unfortunately, the home listings are thin in ski country.
This is an international real estate site, but you can quickly click to any state in the U.S. There is no searchable database here, but lots of links to other real estate pages, many with databases of their owwn. Easy to navigate, this is a good site for honing in on more useful data.
Utah's searchable database, constructed along the lines of realtor.com. You can enter criteria, and you'll get back hits in the order of how well they matched up to your list of requirements.
Though this site offers the ability to search nationwide, it's quite spotty. A check on Pagosa Springs, Colo., near Wolf Creek ski area, found 146 properties-but Aspen showed only five (one of which was 30 miles away in Carbondale). And in the Berkshires-there was nothing.
This is one of the best "for sale by owner" sites for Vermont. (They can be found for almost every state.) It offers detailed write-ups and pictures of the properties, and a spirited argument against using real estate agents to buy or sell property, as well as information on how to sell your own home.
Packed with photos, this site is a lot of fun, although it's limited to the Northeastern states. The only available search index is by town, but it will bring up lots of properties and pictures.
Toski.com turns the usual Web relationship around-someone else does the searching for you. The site offers a parameters form to fill out and return. The web master passes this on to participating real estate agents who have properties that meet your criteria, and they contact you. The service is quick, but it gives your contact info to pesky real estate agents.
This site includes Colorado land and homes and has a mapping tool. Its best attribute, however, is a "custom search" function. Fill in your search parameters and a "personal assistant" e-mails you when something matches your desires.
This is RE/MAX of Mammoth, California's site, offering links to a number of area condominium complexes and a detailed but relatively small listing of properties for sale in the area.
Real estate for sale by Montana Realtors can be searched here by town, with a good search engine that allows you to specify home size and price (maximum and minimum), neighborhood and main floor square footage.
This site is a clearinghouse for Aspen area real estate agents, offering links to several dozen. It also provides an intriguing link to the county assessor's database (www.aspen.com/assessor/), allowing you to find all the legal data on a specific Pitkin County property, including assessed value and past purchase price.
This site carries the MLS for Summit County, Colo. An irritating screen background and sometimes confusing data make the site difficult to browse, and there are no pictures of properties. But the site is updated regularly, so if this is where you are house-hunting, it's a good resource.
The advantage of this Web page is that it covers all 50 states, and will search for a variety of resources, including for-sale-by-owner listings, real estate agents, title companies, appraisers and builders. The database, however, is a little thin.
This is not the most user-friendly site, but it lists properties in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont that can be searched using many criteria, and it carries property photos.
This site is posted by a Jackson Hole, Wyo., agent. It provides information on Jackson and Driggs properties and links to other sites that pertain to the region.