Today's consumer can buy and compare prices in almost every shopping category, including clothing, services, electronics, furniture and even luxury cars - without ever setting foot in a brick and mortar store.
But would they buy a home on the internet?
Considering recent investments in web technology by leading real estate brands, the answer may be 'yes'.
Consumers have shifted from viewing properties on foot to touring them online. Whereas a decade ago, open houses and direct mail flyers were among tools agents used to market their properties to large audiences, modern realtors attract clients through photo images, videos, online social networks, Google Street View and SEO (search engine optimization).
According to Statistics Canada, in 2005, Canadians bought an estimated $7.9 billion worth of goods and services over the internet. By 2007, that number had increased to $12.8 billion. New numbers are expected this year; but, according to Stats Can, more than two thirds of Canadians ages 45 and older went online in 2009 – a rise of 60 percent since 2007. Almost 100 percent of Canadians between the ages of 16 - 24 went online in the same period.
So, with most phases of the real estate buying process achievable online, will the next step be the sales transaction itself? Anecdotally, real estate professionals say that it's already happening.
In an increasingly mobile society and job market, buying a home sight-unseen may become more commonplace. Real estate professionals could evolve into virtual brokers: protecting buyers and sellers from fraudulent listings, negotiating offers, answering quesitons and coordinating the ‘virtual paperwork’ required to complete transactions.
For now, most consumers still prefer to 'try homes on for size' before they buy, which leads to one obvious online sales hurdle - how do you return a home if it doesn’t fit?
Would you buy a property on the internet? Do you know someone who has? Share your comments on our Facebook page.