Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

New real estate website advances calculation of true cost of Florida home

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Wonder if you can really afford that home you lust after? Now there's a way to find out.

This morning, the company that runs the Multiple Listing Service for the Tampa Bay area and other parts of Florida is launching a new website that lets buyers calculate the true cost of a home including utilities and property insurance. They can also get "walkabilty scores" and "sound scores" that help them determine if that dream home is within hoofing distance of a grocery or uncomfortably close to a busy interstate.

Those are among the features of State27Homes.com, an effort by My Florida Regional MLS to help consumers while driving more business to the 50,000 Realtors who work in Central and Southwest Florida.

"It does allow us to help capture uncommitted buyers who haven't agreed already to working with a broker," said Merri Jo Cowen, the organization's CEO. "Our whole goal is to direct consumers who might land on our site to our Realtor members."

According to the National Association of Realtors, 44 percent of all home buyers last year started their search on the internet. And many probably went first to Zillow, Trulia or one of the other big national real estate sites that, like MLS, provide descriptions and photos.

As with Zillow, buyers looking on State27Homes.com --- Florida was the 27th state to join the Union -- can search in myriad ways including by ZIP code, price range and number of bedrooms. But after registering a user name and password, they can also enter personal information --- income, credit score, amount of credit card debt -- that the site uses to determine how much house they can afford or whether they can afford a particular home.

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Alternatively, buyers working with a set budget can plug in the figure and see how many available homes in a certain neighborhood they could handle financially.

Example: In St. Petersburg's 33704 ZIP, which includes the popular Woodlawn and Crescent Heights areas, a buyer with a $2,000 monthly budget would have a choice this week of just three small houses priced from $194,900 to $250,000. Increase the budget to $2,500 a month, and there are 10 homes to choose from at prices ranging to nearly $280,000.

All information entered is confidential. "We don't share with any third parties," said Doug Wise, communications manager for My Florida Regional.

Zillow boasts one advantage over the new site in that it has homes for sale by owner. But it and similar sites show only those broker-represented listings that the brokers chose to share with them.

State27Homes.com, by contrast, shows virtually all listings on the MLS in Pinellas, Hillsborough Pasco and 12 other counties --- about 41,000 as of this week. The listings are updated about every five minutes, considerably faster than on Zillow.

For Realtors, one of the biggest gripes about Zillow is that the listing agent's name is sometimes buried or absent while contact information for agents who pay to advertise on the site pops up when a buyer clicks on a particular home.

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"You can see where that might rub some agents wrong," Wise said. "We don't offer any sort of agent advertising or any sort of advertising at all."

Instead, every property on State27Homes.com has contact information for the listing brokerage. To help buyers find Realtors familiar with an area, the site also lists all real estate offices within that ZIP. Realtors can customize the site with their professional information and all of the properties they have listed.

Among other features, the site:

• Shows the types of down payment assistance that might be available for a certain home.

• Uses EPA data for vehicle makes and models to calculate commuting costs --- especially valuable for buyers considering homes in far--flung suburbs.

• Has a "lifestyle blog" with things to see and do in Central Florida.

"We're not trying to be a big fish in a big pond like Zillow," Wise said, "but hyper-local, and show what's great about living in Florida."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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