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Attention discount shoppers: Find a home online and save

Times Staff Writer

Almost 80% of home buyers start their searches online, according to the National Assn. of Realtors, and 24% buy a house they first learned about on the Web.

To reward this kind of initiative, several online real estate firms are giving Web-savvy buyers rebates or refunds, depending on the site, if they use and close with agents from those Web-based companies.

The latest online broker to join the trend is Seattle-based www.redfin.com, which entered the Southern California market earlier this month.

Buyers identify a house, then work online or by phone with Redfin agents. The three agents serving the region are based in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties but also service San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties.

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Redfin will pay the buyer two-thirds of what would have been that agent’s share of the traditional 6% commission. On the purchase of a $520,000 home -- the median price for L.A. -- that adds up to $10,400, which can be applied to closing costs or issued in a check.

At www.buysiderealty.com, a Chicago-based online brokerage “where it pays to find your own home,” buyers -- who must be preapproved -- work largely online or by phone with an agent. The buyers and agents rarely meet. A dozen salaried agents, including some based in Los Angeles, serve Southern California.

Buyers are given a credit of three-quarters of the agent’s standard commission at closing, or a check within two weeks of the close. That works out to $11,700 on that $520,000 house.

Neither Redfin nor BuySide Realty provides the hand-holding some buyers seek, but both businesses have worked with first-time buyers. Under California law, agents must see the house at least once during the deal, although not necessarily at the same time as the buyer. As the transaction progresses, agents handle all the paperwork.

There’s more personal interaction between buyer and agent through www.rebatereps.com, which is based in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and has a national network of 500 agents. Buyers work face to face with local agents. There are 43 agents throughout Southern California.

These full-service agents share their commissions with buyers. Out of the standard 6% commission, the business rebates 1% of the sales price -- or $5,200 on that $520,000 house -- to the buyer.

The online brokerage also encourages buyers of new homes to use a RebateReps agent instead of dealing directly with the builder. On a $1-million home, a buyer could get a $10,000 rebate.

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gayle.pollard-terry@latimes.com


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