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That consumers are transforming the Internet from an information medium to a transaction medium is well documented by the explosive growth of online merchants like Amazon.com. Buying a book on-line is one thing; buying a house is an altogether different situation.
That consumers are using the Internet to research their new home options is also well documented, but how this online research is changing the new home shopping and buying is again, less certain. The experiences of Chicago-area builder William Ryan Homes, Inc., might offer a few clues.
"Our site is experiencing more and more traffic and the expectation is it will account for an ever increasing number of home sales in the future," says vice president sales and mar-keting Peter Balistreri. Site traffic averages upwards of 5,000 visitors per month, and Balistreri says 16 sales in the past few months can be directly attributed to buyers researching homes on the company''s web site.
Ryan Homes has noted another trend among Internet-enabled buyers: the company''s sales conversion rate for these shoppers is double that of those who bought a home the con-ventional way. "People are not actually buying a home on-line, but they are doing the neces-sary research to make sure all the criteria needed to make the decision has been researched before they visit the home sites," according to Balistreri. "It seems people who take the time to search the Internet and target exactly where they want to live; which school district is best suited to their children; what commute will be most convenient; and exactly what home design will meet their lifestyle needs, are most prepared to make the commitment to purchase a home."
Ryan Homes has organized its web site to deliver this make-or-break information to surfers. Homes are listed by community. Visitors click on the community and access a map of the area with the ability to zoom in and out of pinpointed street. On home design information, visitors receive a list of all the designs available in that community with a comparison chart of the prices, square footage, number of bedrooms, number baths, type of design, size of garage and basement options. Clicking on the floorplan button displays each of the home''s layout, in-cluding the size and design of each room. These floorplans may be printed so shoppers can draw where they will place furniture, locate the television, etc.
"We just added a virtual tour of each of homes that gives visitors the opportunity to `walk-through'' the designs," says Balistreri. "This way they will be able to get a sense for which designs feel most comfortable to them without having to drive to the location."
Just as important to site visitors is information about the community. Ryan Homes'' site includes a school button that brings up a list of all the area schools with their phone numbers. "Having access to information about our homes, the community, and the neighborhood is of real value to people who are not familiar with the area," Balistreri says. "How else can they learn without having to travel to Chicago and take weeks to look at communities?"
To learn more visit the site at www.williamryan.com .
Heather McCune is the Editor-in-Chief for Professional Builder and Luxury Home Builder. Please email her  with any comments or questions regarding her column.