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KEYBOARDS SAVE TIME AND LEGWORK

My husband and I moved twice in the past eight years, and each time we went through the same desperate search for a new place to call home.

You know the ritual: grab armloads of realty magazines, gas up the car, load in the kids and drive. Buy the kids fast food lunches. Drive some more. Keep driving until sundown, when it's too dark to see anything beyond the curb.It was drive-by shopping.

When we used a Realtor to help us find our third home, the only variation was she did the driving.

I am happy to report there is a way to save gas money and aggravation when house hunting: Let your computer keyboard do the driving.

Realtors are staking out the Internet to bring homebuyers and sellers together in what I think is one of the best uses of the World Wide Web. Top notch sites let you calculate how much home you can afford, check out and even apply for a loan, and sift through listings - with photos - that match your dream home criteria. (See accompanying story for Web sites).

Like what you see? Send the listing agent an e-mail message requesting a showing or more information. Using the Internet can save you a lot of legwork andgive you the knowledge you need to be a shrewd shopper.

Gage Froerer, president of the Utah Association of Realtors, estimates 10 percent to 15 percent of Realtors in the state are online. He expects the number to explode during the coming year as more Realtors and their clients learn how the Internet can simplify the process.

"People want to sit down at their computers and have access immediately, and as much information as possible," Froerer said. "People aren't going to wait any more to go into their Realtor's office."

One spur will be the Realty Information Network, an online resource for both agents and clients, that began operating in Utah in April. Among other features, it offers an online version of the Multiple Listing Service - a catalog of most homes and properties for sale in the state.

Froerer said one agent in his Century 21 Ogden office who has a Web page gets three to five inquiries a week from people seeking information.

"The interest is there," he said. "I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what it will be in the future."

Mario Giordani, a Realtor with Wardley Better Homes and Gardens, glimpsed the Internet future long before it caught fire. Drawing on his first career as a software consultant, Giordani set up a Web page two years ago to advertise his listings.

"People can look at listings in the comfort of their own homes without any sales pressure," he said.

He credits his page, "The Home Port," with landing him co-honors for the most relocation referrals among Wardley's 1,700 agents last year.

"I derive more business from relocations than local business but I have actually sold homes to people locally who looked at my (Web) information," Giordani said.

John Hanson of Century 21 All Pros Realty in American Fork has used the Web to draw in clients since December. His Web page is geared toward newcomers to the state.

"I thought that when people came in and were relocating to Utah, after they looked at houses they might like to look at other resources in the state, Hanson said.

Using himself as a guinea pig, he decided newcomers might like a taste of local news, so he put in links to the pages of KTVX Channel 4 and the Deseret news. He figured they might like to see what there is to do, so he linked serveral travel guides. And how about the weather? There is a link to the daily forecast, too.

Hanson has sold one house to a client who came to him via the Internet and has two other strong possibilities, including a professor for Purdue University who is relocating to Utah. "I'm finding it to be very useful," he said.

And so are people who are trying to sell homes on their own.

Rick Lawrence of Carbondale, Colo., is trying to sell his second home in Moab. He has it listed with a local real estate firm but decided to give their effort a boost by advertising his home in the global marketplace.

"I know a lot of the people moving to Moab are from out of town," Lawrence said. He's had 20 to 30 visitors to the page but no real nibbles since posting it 10 days ago.