- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

On-line technology is changing the face of real estate for both the buyer and seller. A plethora of Web sites has sprung up in the past few years, offering incentives to use the services.

One of the most recent is Cashback2.com, which is based in San Mateo, Calif., with affiliates throughout the United States and Canada. This site is a real estate agent referral system that matches buyers and sellers with a local agent. The site's appeal is that it gives "cash back" to the buyers and sellers who use the service.

The company's Web site www.cashback2.com features a section exclusively for buyers and one for sellers. The buyer fills in a three-page form and then chats on line with a representative. The buyer is contacted via e-mail with the name of a real estate agent who will contact the buyer within 48 hours.

You can calculate the amount of cash you will receive at settlement by plugging in the price of the home you are buying. The amount received will be * percent of the purchase price; based on a $250,000 house, the calculator showed a refund of $997.

The seller also is eligible to receive the same cash back as the buyer in the transaction, based on the price of the home being sold. In the seller's section are a series of checklists you can print out, designed to serve as a reminder of things to be done.

You might wonder how this company gives cash back to the consumer. Here's the catch the real estate agent pays a 19 percent referral fee based upon the agent's share of the commission.

While a 6 percent commission sounds like a lot, this fee is split between the two agents in the transaction and their companies. Using the $250,000 house as an example, the 6 percent commission is $15,000, or $7,500 per agent and company. Depending upon the split the agent earns, which varies per agent, the agent's share could be 40 percent, 50 percent or 60 percent of the $7,500. Using a 50 percent split, the agent earns $3,750 of the $15,000 commission. The 19 percent referral fee would total $712.50 in this example.

"Because we are international, what will benefit an agent from using our service is that someone who is looking to relocate to another area can be connected to a local agent," says Patti Shaw, a spokeswoman for Cashback2.com.

Another on-line company www.ziprealty.com also offers on-line real estate brokerage with rebates to the buyer and seller. This company, based in Berkeley, Calif., was set up in August 1999, according to its Web site, and has recently entered the East Coast market.

It offers live on-line assistance between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PDT (noon to 8 p.m. EDT). This site has a section that offers help with insurance, loans, moving services, home inspections and even credit reports.

A Weichert Realtor who asked not to be identified licensed in Maryland, Virginia and the District says he believes people who are surfing the Internet to look at houses are not ready to commit to human interaction.

He says the best way to do business is still by referral from friends or former clients. He views the on-line services as people who are selling leads to Realtors, and adds that most agents he knows would rather take the money they would pay as a referral fee and spend it reaching potential buyers and sellers by targeting specific neighborhoods.

"Most of us are scoffing at the idea of paying for leads," he says.

He suggests that an agent who is discounting his services might not be top drawer or may not be as attentive to the transaction. The bottom line, he says, is real estate is local.

Marge Fahey is assistant editor of the Friday Home Guide. She has covered real estate issues in the Washington area for the past three years and held a Realtor's license in Virginia in the mid-1970s. She can be reached by phone at 202/636-3288 or by e-mail (fahey@twtmail.com).

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