Computer technology brings house-finding facts to your doorstep

Real estate public record data - that massive collection of information that has been stored in huge volumes in the dark archives of county courthouses - are now being transferred to the memory banks of giant computers. In certain counties and states, the computerized information on all properties is now available.

Over the past two decades, advancing computer technology has served the real estate industry well.The big start was the introduction of the computerized books produced for multiple-listing services (MLS) - books distributed to MLS member brokers carrying pictures and data on currently listed properties.

Then came computer on-line systems, making it possible for brokers to access information on listed properties on their own office terminals.

A wide variety of special software (programs) that brokers could use to help their buying and selling clients soon developed, including custom-tailored amortization schedules, investment property analysis reports, and others.

The most significant step in recent years has been the emerging capability to search for and retrieve data on any property, even though the target location is across the state or country.

Consider this scenario: An investor in San Diego wants to buy an apartment building up in Sacramento. He has very special and specific requirements for the properties he'll consider. Among other criteria, the building has to include 50 to 75 apartment units, have been built between 1976 and 1981, and be within a specified area of Sacramento.

The investor plans to spend several days in Sacramento to search out properties that meet his specific requirements. As in the past, he expects to spend much of that time in the courthouse, poring over those large volumes of public real estate records.

First, however, he decides to stop for a visit with a real estate broker who works from an office less than a mile from the investor's home in San Diego.

The broker had just aligned himself with a new computer-information network. This is good news for the investor, because it provides the capability to search for and report on properties at any location throughout the state that meet all the investor's precise requirements.

From information gathered and reported in a few minutes by the computer, the investor quickly selects three properties that appear to be ideal for his investment portfolio. Then it is just a matter of flying to Sacramento for a one-day personal inspection trip.

Reaching this point of sophistication in computerized information systems required a two-step process.

First, county real estate records became available to local computer on-line users. In other words, assessor-based data on all properties within the county became accessible to subscribers via their own terminals.

Second, this same data base on property from many counties was combined to provide and disseminate information to real estate professionals throughout the country.

The San Diego investor-buyer found just the right property in Sacramento, and in a fraction of the time he might otherwise have spent.

While a single nationwide data base does not yet exist, it is just around the corner.

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