Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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Semptember 2006, Week 1

dog


OH, YOU MEAN THAT HOUSE...

         If you've ever been interested in the price of a house that wasn't for sale, head over to Reply.com , a new real estate service that lets you click on just about any address to find out what it might cost.

   This is a brand-new site and has lots of holes, but we're guessing it's the beginning of a service that can eventually be the Amazon.com of real estate. The initial attraction is for buyers who might want to make an unsolicited offer. Real estate brokers know that many houses that aren't listed for sale are in fact for sale if someone comes along with a good offer.  Reply.com

   For $25 per unsolicited offer, Reply will mail it off with a packet of info to the homeowner. The homeowner either goes online or calls a toll-free number to find out the details of the offer. You could also just send them a note on your own.  

   The site provides maps, aerial views and lots of other information. You type in an address and up pops the property, its neighborhood and a probable price. You get the square footage of the lot and house, the last sale price, plus background on the demographics and how long the average resident has lived there. You get crime statistics, typical household income and school spending per pupil. (You can often get this kind of information from a community's official Web site.)

   There's a lot of information here, and while it looks like the beginning of something big, it is very much a work in progress. Almost every other address we typed in gave information that the area had 50 percent vacant houses, but we knew there were close to no vacancies. The site has a lot of bugs and many missing addresses. Still, it's an interesting business idea, and a way to find out what your house, or your friend's, is worth.  

   You can post anonymous comments about houses, but you have to fill out a form rating the floor plan, interior condition, etc. This is more than a little annoying if you know some useful information abut an address, as we did, but never saw the inside of the house. The restriction of having to fill out every check box in the comments section makes it almost useless. We put our comments in anyway, but gave fake ratings to satisfy all the boxes to be checked. You could also comment on the neighbors you know, and that should be interesting as all get out, especially when the lawsuits for defmation of character start up.

An Interesting Retail Idea 

    A new Web business called Shopster.com is available for people who would like to set up an online store. Shopster charges $30 a month and a $99 Shopstersetup fee. This looks similar to Yahoo, which will let you set up a store for $40 a month plus a $50 setup fee, but there are important differences between the two. (To take a look at Yahoo's online stores, go to smallbusiness.yahoo.com.)

    At Shopster, the site supplies the products and handles the shipping. Whether the merchandise sells depends on your marketing abilities. You can select from an inventory of 700,000 products and list as many as a thousand of them in your online store. You can choose any domain name that's available for your store name, and anyone browsing the Web for products will see that one, not Shopster's. There's a free trial account, so you can test the waters before signing up.

   To find out how others have been faring with these online stores, sign up for the free trial and click on the "forums" tab. There are many success stories, but there are also many tales of woe from people who spent months marketing their site and were unable to steer enough traffic there to make it pay. This is much like the experience of traditional new businesses.

    We were impressed by the look and quality of some of the sites we looked at. These included one selling just watches, another women's handbags, a store for MP3 players, a "Hello Kitty" store that sold those collectibles, and an "RPG" store that sold role playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons. You can see that the common thread here is that each of these stores specialized in a single type of product and offered a wide selection in that area.

A Place to Store It

Our new favorite site for online backup is Mozy.com. It's free, easy to use and lets you store up to 2 gigabytes.

To start, you download the Mozy software from the Web site and put check marks next to a list of items you want to back up -- the "My Documents" folder,Mozy word processing documents, photos, spreadsheets, etc. These are backed up and any changes are backed up every 30 minutes as long as you're online.

   The files stay there unless you go through a month or more without logging in. Then, everything but the latest backup is erased. You can restore your backups five times a month per free account. Joy had no problem backing up files from one computer and then restoring them to another. If you need more space, you can get 5 gigabytes for $2 a month or 30 gigabytes for $5 a month.

    Mozy works quietly in the background, but is slow. This shouldn't matter, and didn't for us, because it doesn't interfere with continuing your work. Mozy also sends one ad a month to an e-mail address you provide. You can create any e-mail address you want at Yahoo.com and give them that one if you want to avoid receiving even one ad.

 


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