Now and then something happens that brings home to me just how much the Internet is becoming a part of our everyday lives. I'm not talking about wild-eyed schemes that seem ludicrous even to the most adventurous Netheads among us.
I'm talking about the everyday stuff. Checking what the lunch menu is at your children's school. Finding directions to your aunt's new house in Providence, R.I. Or even what I've just spent the past two weeks doing - buying a house. The Internet (despite all efforts to turn the Web into the world's biggest shopping mall) is still basically a tool for hunting and gathering information. And no one thinking of buying a house can afford to ignore it.
The first step, of course, is to find the darn house. My previous residence in Nova Scotia was bought by a couple from Saudi Arabia. They had seen and read about the house online, contacted the real estate agent, and voila! Deal done. Meanwhile, my family now needed a house in the Boston area. So the first place I turned was boston.com.
The site, which also includes The Boston Globe, is a veritable El Dorado of house-hunting information. You can find recent listing in all local communities, filtered down to include only the amenities you desire. You can get up-to-date mortgage rates, based on loan type, number of points etc. There is even a program that helps you calculate the "weight" of all the belongings you'll need to move.
Services like these have become a standard way that local information providers, like newspapers, use the Internet to offer more than just the news to their readers. The Globe's real-estate site gives buyers a real advantage in the house-hunting game.
So, after looking at all the available houses on realtors' websites (most of which include pictures and directions), my wife and I picked several we liked, printed out information about them, and hopped in our car to take a look at them. Not that we had to. Many of the houses on the Internet not only include shots of the exterior, but also iPix 360-degree views of rooms. So, you literally can see everything about them, in many cases.
The house market in Boston right now is expensive and fastmoving. If you find a house, you have to act quickly. Once we found the house we wanted, I used the Internet to find a good mortgage rate. I also visited a great site called domainia.com, which tells how much the current owner paid for the house. I can also see the prices of other houses in the neighborhood.
Then I visited virtualrelocation.com, only to discover that this great service had been gobbled up by monster.com and was now part of the service called monstermoving.com. While I found it more difficult to get the information I needed on this new site, I did track down facts on local schools. If you're willing to let an advertiser of your choice contact you, you can also get a detailed report of the local school system for free.
Using the Internet (and a good real estate agent - I would never advise acting completely alone) enabled my family to find the perfect house, at a price that my friends say was a real steal, in an area that I now know a lot about - even the school I hope my children can attend. Ten years ago, it would have taken weeks, many phone calls, and lots of time and energy to find this information. The Internet helped me do it all in about the equivalent of a day and a half, on my spare time in the evenings.
But I'm not done yet. I still need to find a good moving company. Back to the Net I go....
Tom Regan is the associate editor of csmonitor.com, the electronic edition of The Christian Science Monitor. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
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