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On bloggers' turf

Real estate enthusiasts and buyers are turning to Web logs, eager to gain an edge.

July 24, 2005|Jeff Bertolucci | Special to The Times

When Mesha Provo and her husband decided last March to sell their 1,350-square-foot home in El Sobrante, a Bay Area suburb, she saw green in her garden. A self-styled "fanatical gardener," she recognized the potential draw of her labors -- and she hoped to find a buyer who would appreciate her garden's beauty.

So in addition to hiring an agent to list the property, Provo started an Internet Web log -- blog for short -- and told her real estate agent to include the Web address on her home's Multiple Listing Service information.

Each day, she wrote about and posted photos of her daisies, jasmine and roses to entice prospects.

"I had this idea that I would first tease them with pictures of the garden," said Provo, 52, who is the national sales manager for Ballentine Vineyards in Napa Valley. Later, she added shots of the home's interior and exterior.

Her clever marketing appeared to work. The house sold for $612,000 -- $43,000 more than the original asking price -- to another gardener who read her blog.

Provo's story may be unusual, but it shows that Internet blogs have the potential to be effective consumer tools for home buyers and sellers. They also appeal to real estate junkies who watch and follow market trends. A blog such as Provo's (gardenforsalehomeincluded.blogspot.com) is an online journal, a chronicle of personal opinions, reader comments and Web links to related topics. It's one person's take on life or on a particular topic -- uncensored, edgy and updated frequently.

Some readers base their buying decisions on the information they read on real estate blogs.

Brandon Farley, 36, of San Diego, is a devotee of the Housing Bubble 2 at thehousingbubble2.blogspot.com.

"There's a lot of information out there -- journalism and advertising -- that's very pro about buying homes and investing," said Farley, a transportation planner who's waiting for prices to drop before buying. "I don't think there's been a lot -- until maybe this blog -- to provide a counterargument."

The Housing Bubble 2, a popular blog, is a labor of love maintained by 41-year-old Ben Jones, a writer and investor based in Sedona, Ariz. Jones, who's never worked in the real estate industry, posts commentary and links to real estate articles several times a day. Daily readership is in the "thousands," Jones estimates, and he's gotten as many as 20,000 hits (site visits) per day. It's not uncommon to find 200 or more daily comments from readers seeking a slant they believe isn't offered by their local news media.

Why does he do it?

"It's a chronicle of who's saying what and when," said Jones, who started the blog last December. He believes the U.S. is in the midst of a housing price "mania," and he personally blames the Federal Reserve, which "left interest rates too low for too long."

Indeed, distrust of the mainstream media runs deep with bloggers.

Mickey Cheng, 42, a computer programmer in Thousand Oaks and a regular reader of the Housing Bubble 2, maintains his own site at housebubble.com.

"Newspapers are so heavily influenced by the real estate industry that they don't give you the correct view of the situation," he said.

Cheng, a renter, is waiting for home prices to fall back to Earth before buying again. In February, Cheng sold his 1,400-square-foot home for $560,000; he bought the house in 1993 for $215,000. He currently leases a two-story home with a three-car garage for $2,400 a month.

"The rent is a great deal," said Cheng, who estimates that buying a comparable home in his neighborhood would cost $4,500 a month with a 30-year mortgage. "Renting is half the cost of buying."

Ironically, many real estate blogs post links to housing-bubble stories written by mainstream newspapers and magazines. Cheng, for instance, posts a daily list of bubble-related story links on his site. Recent links directed readers to pessimistic stories on home prices from the New York Times and the Sacramento Bee.

Bloggers often find that, like any new hobby, it is fun for a while. But it can quickly turn into a grind. Only the most dedicated -- Jones, for instance -- update their sites daily.

"Once I got into it, I made a decision to post something every Monday through Friday, at least one kind of article," said Tim Iacone, an Oxnard-based software engineer who runs the Mess That Greenspan Made (themessthatgreenspanmade.blogspot.com). Though his blog isn't as popular as Housing Bubble 2, Iacone isn't preaching to an empty hall. He estimates the site gets about 700 hits a day.

Real estate agents have taken up blogging too. From a home buyer's or seller's perspective, these sites can provide insights into an agent's personality, interests and ethics -- important considerations when choosing someone to market your home.

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