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Home buying

In the listings game, the ground shifts Add to ...

Rick Hedvigi probably qualifies as a sort of Internet pioneer. Earlier this fall he became one of the first people in the GTA to sell his home through a new Internet-based listing service.

Sage Real Estate, formerly a Sutton Group franchise, split from Sutton in September and created its own version of the Multiple Listing Service available only to Sage clients. It is the first brokerage in the GTA to do so.

Sign with Sage and you get all the bells and whistles of a traditional brokerage, including a listing on the Toronto Real Estate Board's MLS. But you also get a dedicated website for your home complete with up to 30 professionally shot photos and a description of the property, a link to Sage's own corporate site and social media sites like YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Realty Stock, Oodle, Craigslist and Kijiji.

Mr. Hedvigi got three competing offers for his Royal York Road and Bloor Street home within a week of listing with Sage - two through Facebook and one through Google - and sold the property in the high $700,000 range or $50,000 above the list price.

"It was terrific," he says. "We didn't have to go through open houses, we sold very, very quickly and we got quite a bit more than we asked. Frankly, I am surprised no one created a service like this before."

Sage might be the first GTA brokerage to launch its own version of the MLS on steroids but other groups have not overlooked techno trends. Some surveys suggest up to 90 per cent of people looking to buy real estate start their search on the Internet.

Want to know what a specific neighbourhood is like? Try www.zoocasa.com. There is even an iPhone version that pinpoints the user's location through GPS and shows all nearby properties for sale.

Use it on your home computer and you can pull up details and descriptions of the surrounding community, schools and playgrounds, services such as banks, daycare and libraries and entertainment and recreation like local eateries, bars, fitness centres and theatres.

Looking for a sunshine rental or ownership vacation home in Florida? This November saw the launch of a new site called www.flahomesandcondos.ca. It is a one-stop resource for Canadians looking to rent or buy in the state.

There is a section that allows Florida agents to list both rental and resale condos and homes, searchable by area, property type and price range and a section that lists local professionals such as lawyers, mortgage brokers, title companies and insurance and tax specialists.

Sections explain the current market and offer insight on just how different owning property in that state can be from owning a home in Canada.

The site that is likely to have the most profound effect on GTA residents, however, is the Sage site. It is among the first in this city to harness the accessibility and ubiquity of the Internet to buy and sell residential property.

While no one will yet discuss its implications, the private Internet-based system is also likely to have an eventual impact on real estate commissions. Why pay a 5-per-cent commission when technology is doing all the heavy lifting?

Right now, Sage is sticking with standard negotiated commissions, says vice-president Evan Sage. The service is only a few months old. Too soon to decide such weighty issues.

What he knows is that it works and justifies the gamble the company took. Larry Sage, Evan's father, started the company 33 years ago and for the past 13 years it was a member of the Sutton Group, operating as Sutton Bayview.

As Evan tells the story, Sage senior became more and more impressed with the potential of the Internet during visits to conferences in the United States. About a year ago he decided to completely reshape the way his company did business.

First he would have to break the ties with Sutton Group. The money saved in franchise fees helped pay for the investment in new technology required, Evan says. Then he invited his two sons Evan and Bradley to leave their jobs and join him at the newly minted Sage Real Estate.

Admittedly, some agents concerned about the new way of doing business left the company, winnowing its strength down to about 87 agents. Trial runs in October saw the company pick up and post about 41 new listings and the response in almost all cases was encouraging.

One of the benefits of the new service is it offers a lot more detail on properties. A couple dozen or more professionally shot photos or in some cases even video on a dedicated website provide a much better sense of what the home offers than standard MLS fare.

The links with search engines like Google and social media sites like Facebook make searching by house type or neighbourhood relatively simple and easy.

The Florida homes and condos site makes use of video and still photos as well.

In the end, it beats spending evening after evening driving around the city with an agent looking at homes you would not have given a second thought to if you knew more about them.

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