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REAL ESTATE DEAL IS A HARD SELL SHOWROOMS OFFERING COMPUTERIZED TOURS FAIL TO CATCH BUYERS' INTEREST

By Published on .

Eight months ago, Real View Home Tours opened what was to be the first of a chain of showrooms offering computerized "tours" of homes for sale.

The idea was to give buyers a hassle-free way to see homes on their own, quickly and conveniently.

But in June, Real View shuttered its two showrooms: one that opened last November in Northbrook, Ill., and another that had only been open for two months in Chicago.

Real estate agents, fearing competition, shunned the service, even though Real View worked only through brokers. And too few home buyers stopped in, despite the somewhat voyeuristic lure of seeing photos of the interiors of expensive Chicago-area houses.

Now, Real View is wooing real estate agencies by offering them software they can use within their offices. And the lessons the start-up company learned about the market for interactive media are sinking in.

"From the beginning of the showroom openings, there was resistance among regional real estate broker-owners," said Gerry Golden, president-CEO of the start-up company located in Northbrook. "They thought Real View's objective was to get into the business and control the database."

Ironically, Real View thought it was working with the real estate agents, not against them.

For about $100, an agent could list a home on Real View's computers for four months. Each ad showed up to 20 color photos, information about each home, and the agent's name, picture and phone number. A prospective buyer could click the mouse on a button on the screen, pick up the phone next to the terminal and be connected directly with the agent's office.

Each showroom was set up with cubicles housing computers, 35 in Northbrook and 15 in Chicago. Home buyers could sit and search the database for interesting houses. The system was updated daily as new listings came in.

But it was the distance between the buyer and the real estate agent that caused problems.

"As realtors, we like to have primary contact with the customer," said Jim Kinney, president of Rubloff Residential Properties in Chicago.

Foot traffic also was difficult to maintain. In April, shortly after Real View opened its Chicago showroom, Senior VP-Marketing Frank Muldowney admitted it was harder than expected to keep consumers interested in using the service.

"The cost of advertising for the showroom and for running it was significantly high," Mr. Golden said. "We did feel that [placing the software in realty offices] was the direction we would have to take to make this economically feasible."

Real View spent $100,000-plus to advertise the showrooms on network and cable TV, in newspapers and via direct mail through Brian Keith Advertising, Oak Brook, Ill.

Since the closing of the showrooms, Real View has installed its software in 20 realty offices around the Chicago area, with plans to install in 20 to 30 more in the next four to five months.

"We're on the right path now," said Mr. Golden. "Our original intent was to make it available to real estate brokers in their offices."

Real View offers roughly 1,000 computerized listings of homes mainly in the suburbs of Chicago.

Consumers don't pay to use the service. Real View installs the software free in realty offices, charging only for listings, plus a $100 monthly updating fee.

Although the software's primary focus is on real estate-specifically residential, single family homes-it also displays ads for home-related service providers.

Moving and mortgage companies, as well as bathroom fixture marketers have al- ready begun advertising their services. Real View inserts ads in the software, charging anywhere from $25 to several hundred dollars a month, depending on the ad's complexity.

This second use has not been marketed heavily, however.

"We're waiting for more real estate penetration," said Mr. Golden. Plans are to market it in the fourth quarter of 1994.

Real View first tried to interest real estate agents in the program early last year, but only half a dozen offices purchased it.

"The cost of the [software] was a barrier," Mr. Golden said. "They didn't see the real value in it."

So Real View decided to try the showroom route.

Real estate agents were still leery, however. What frightened them was the real estate license hanging on the wall in the showrooms.

"We never operated as a real estate broker," Mr. Golden insists. "We only had it there for legal reasons."

Now that the showrooms are closed, brokers seem more willing to accept the service.

"We're the first in our area to have it," said Deborah Arnold, broker-owner of ReMax Exclusive Properties, Chicago, who has had the program for more than a month. "I felt it was a progressive idea, and I'm working hard to get other brokers in the area online."

Another ReMax broker sees a different value.

"If more people utilized it, they could save a lot of time and money," said Delores Sharlott, managing broker of ReMax North in Northbrook, one of the first to buy the Real View service.

"A couple of my agents sold houses off the machine," she said. "These are houses they never would have shown the buyer because they were looking for something else."

"This concept is working a lot better," Mr. Golden said. "We've developed confidence in realtors and brokers; it's taken a year to get there."

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