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An On-Line Guide to Properties Abroad

September 15, 1995

When Rosie and Welly Bradham bought their 18-acre farm in France’s Dordogne region 18 years ago, they did it the old-fashioned way. ``We drove around, we followed our noses, we used word of mouth,″ says Mrs. Bradham, who splits her time between France and South Carolina. ``It worked, but it took some time.″

When they put the property back on the market this year, the number of options had increased. In addition to spreading the word at the local brasserie, the couple placed an advertisement on an increasingly popular section of the Internet called the World Wide Web, complete with color photos and a colorful description.

Notes Mrs. Bradham: ``People who had the time could certainly come to southwest France and poke around. Or, they could look us up on the computer and see if the place suited them first. That’s a good choice to have.″

Such thinking is sparking a bit of a movement abroad, where an increasing number of high-end international properties are being listed for sale on-line. Total numbers are still small, but a handful of real estate cyberpioneers are showing properties such as a 90-year-old Moorish style villa in Capri, Italy, or a 17th-century palacio in Lousa, Portugal. You can even a find a pied a terre in Tokyo without leaving your chair. It’s all out there, you just have to know how to find and, when you do, what to do with it.

Once you’re on-line and touring getaway homes of the world, you may discover it’s difficult to pull yourself away. Here’s the description of the $1.6 million Portuguese palacio: ``Set in its own grounds beside the ancient military road in the picturesque valley of Alcaperna, a private weir and river reservoir and 230 meters of prime river frontage. After the battle of Foz-de-Arouce in 1811, the Duke of Wellington was hosted (here) by the Morgado Paiva Pinta.″ How can you not take the time to look at the color pictures? (Be warned, however, that pictures on the Web can take up to a minute to appear on your screen, so read the descriptions first and be selective.)

Many brokers are beginning to realize the well-to-do market on the Web, and as a result the number of on-line real estate listings is growing. ``There were 45 total sites in February 1995, and there are now about 1,500 on my service,″ says Becky Swann, a Texas buyer’s agent who started the Internet Real Estate Directory, an on-line listing of Internet real estate areas, in February 1995.

About 500 of those are brokerage listings, and that’s a ``minuscule part of the possible universe,″ she adds, noting that in the U.S. alone there are about 1.5 million real estate brokers (the National Association of Realtors alone lists 750,000 brokers as members). ``No one has had the resources to count the actual number of real estate sites, and, even so, it’s always growing,″ she says.

The number of international real estate sites is increasing. Says Ms. Swann: ``(There are listings from) Italy, Belgium, Australia, the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central America. I’ve recently had inquiries from brokers in New Zealand and Antigua wanting to get on the Internet.″

Yet the list is still only about one-fourth as large as it is in the U.S. and Canada, where brokers and owners have been quicker to embrace the technology. The actual number of villas, chateaux and seaside mansions is generally limited to a few each in Western European countries, Mexico, South America and Asia.

Jack Harper, an avid Web-surfer from the San Francisco area, says he has been routinely disappointed by the paucity of international listings. ``It’s much more difficult than finding listings for American properties,″ he says. Most of the brokers who list in the international sections are Americans who have one or two international properties to sell, he says.

Indeed, the one listing available in Thailand, a $499,000 three-bedroom, three-bath condo on the island of Phuket, is posted by broker Alice Held of Scottsdale, Ariz. She placed the apartment on the Internet in June ``because I felt it was the only way to reach thousands of people,″ she says.

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