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Real-Time Real Estate

An integrated online service attempts to revolutionize the way real estate agents research properties.

There’s a new reality in Hawaii real estate, and it has everything to do with the Internet. Yes, there’s been an influx of West Coast techies loaded with stock options. But the really dramatic change has been in the increasing number of Internet-focused clients who are demanding service from their Realtors in real time.

"Agents have to adjust to the new technology-savvy clients. If they don’t, their market share will start decreasing," warns Carl E. Spencer, vice president of the Hawaii Island Board of Realtors.

Enter WebREsearch, a subscription-based Internet service from Hawaii Information Service (www.hawaiiinformation.com). WebREsearch uses the Web to deliver Multiple Listing Service and Tax Map Key data that would otherwise have to be found in thick volumes.

"This is one of the first (real estate industry) products out there that is using the Web 100 percent," says Spencer.

Launched in April, WebREsearch offers a variety of services available only in Hawaii. It offers subscribers Tax Map Key data on any property in the state. For the moment, it offers MLS listings only for Kauai and the Big Island. And while all Tax Map Key data are available to any subscriber, you must be a Realtor to access the MLS listings. The program also offers scrollable parcel maps and tax maps with zoom capability, full-color 3-D virtual tours, property sketches, property loans and ownership information and county property records.

Server center: Network administrator Victor Gumiel at Hawaii Information Service's nerve center.

WebREsearch subscription fees range from $60 to $85 a month, with extra charges for special services. The current subscriber base includes approximately 1,000 licensed real estate agents on Hawaii and Kauai, and roughly 600 non-real estate subscribers on Maui and Oahu.

"The benefits of WebREsearch are that you can customize the data you want to see and customize how you want to display it, and you can do it all in one search from anywhere in the world," says Lin McIntosh, HIS’ president.

HIS began in 1984 as a $9,000 joint venture of Realtors on Kauai and the Big Island, known then as the Neighbor Island MLS. In its first year, the venture generated $100,000 in gross sales. This year, Hawaii Information Service projects sales of $1.4 million. That would be a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

McIntosh says sales growth is getting a boost from Internet-related products. The company is also an ISP, which offers high-speed DSL services. However, McIntosh says WebREsearch isn’t a profit center, at least not yet.

Profit center or not, WebREsearch is already part of the daily routine for many real estate agents on Kauai and the Big Island. "The program certainly enables me to become quickly familiar with properties I am not familiar with. Real estate professionals who do not use this instantaneous information are at a great disadvantage, especially in a hot market," says Carol C. Cummings, a Realtor with Kauai Realty, Inc.

So why then, with such widespread use on Kauai and the Big Island, don’t real estate agents on Maui and Oahu enjoy similar browser-based programs? For one, their organizations have competing research products. The Honolulu Board of Realtors currently uses the Maestro MLS system. It is a Windows-based system with approximately 3,200 subscribers on Oahu.

The Maui Board of Realtors currently gathers MLS data through a program called T-III, which is leased through Interealty. However, Maui Board of Realtors’ Executive Vice President Terry Tolman says the board’s contract with Interealty will soon end.

Given that the current MLS programs utilized on both Maui and Oahu are not browser-based, users do not have the freedom to access

their database once off-island. WebREsearch, on the other hand, is accessible from anywhere via the World Wide Web.

However, according to Tolman, the true value lies not in the fastest MLS system or the most efficient programs. "The public wants to get information as fast as possible, but realtors need to be able to handle the new tools and processes," he says. "Now that there is no longer a lock on the data, it’s not only providing it, but more so how (Realtors) interpret it."

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