Computer technology has changed the way consumers shop for everything from shoes to homes. Thanks to easy access to online data, 90 percent of homebuyers surveyed by the National Association of Realtors in 2012 said the Internet was their top information source when searching for a home (compared to just 27 percent who said they typically turned to newspaper ads first). Further, 62 percent of buyers who participated in the NAR poll reported that virtual tours propelled them to follow up with a personal visit to the homes they viewed online.

That’s a far cry from the way home shopping was conducted prior to the digital age, according to Krishna Rao, an economist with Zillow who joined colleagues from Walk Score and Redfin on a panel at the 2014 ULI Spring Meeting in Vancouver to examine how technology is changing the way buyers view homes.

“It was like a dark room in which your agent had the only flashlight,” Rao said. “We wanted to give consumers access to the universe of properties for sale, and use technology to demystify the home-search process.” Pulling from public records, Zillow provides home shoppers with free data on approximately 110 million homes in the United States.

Similarly, Walk Score is connecting home shoppers with available housing by showing them “what’s outside the four walls of a property,” said Walk Score co-founder Matt Lerner. Walk Score allows consumers to search by address, neighborhood or city to determine an area’s “walkability,” which is becoming a greater consideration when people are looking to buy or rent a home. The online database rates properties on a scale of 1 to 100 – the higher the number the better. Lerner credits Walk Score for bringing walkability to the forefront of the home search and placing value on homes that are located in vibrant, urban areas.

Next up, Lerner said, are plans to expand the data to include commute-time stats. It’s a big change from prior search engine data that focused strictly on price, number of bedrooms and bathroom, and other basic information.

 While much has changed about the home shopping process since the dawn of computer technology – and certainly more advancements are yet to be developed – we’re happy knowing there’s one thing big data will never replace, and that’s personalized customer service.

(Editor’s Note: Andy Warren is president of Maracay Homes, the Arizona subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company.  He serves on the Board of Directors and as an Executive Committee member with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and is a past board member of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.  He is also a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership and an active member of the Urban Land Institute.)

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