I work from home and I love it. I enjoy staying inside on those nasty, cold winter days. Not having to scrape off my car is one of life's little pleasures that never gets old. I tend to spend a good amount of time talking on the phone so it is nice to not have to worry about bothering an office-mate with my gabbing.

One of the downsides of this lifestyle is it does tend to get a little quiet (Dave Matthews Band in the background, notwithstanding). While I am a card-carrying introvert, I do sometimes miss the human interaction of co-workers. To that end, I make efforts to get out of the house (after changing out of my PJs) and seek out some of my peeps.

It turns out I'm not alone. As much as we hear about people being stuck "in" their screens all day, as a society we still value getting "out". I love online shopping as much as the next guy, but when I am after a new tech magazine or book, I head to the bookstore. When shopping for clothing, I honestly don't understand how people can buy anything more than a t-shirt online. I just head to Marshalls (I love that place!). More than anything, I want to see, feel and touch what it is I'm purchasing. I'm told that Zappos makes it super easy to try out — and return shoes. I'm sure that's true, but nothing is easier than trying them on right there in the store. No shipping, packaging, post office trips, etc.

According to a new consumer survey conducted by ICSC, a global resource for the retail real estate industry, almost 80 percent of my fellow consumers are with me. We all visited a store as much or more than we did two years ago. The primary things we are doing are entertainment (61 percent) and dining (53 percent). Just this past weekend, I was sitting at home after cleaning out the garage and needed to eat. With plenty of food in the fridge (I had also been grocery shopping!), I ventured out to my favorite bar for a snack. Dining in, ordering in and online shopping most certainly have their place, but there will never be a substitute for real human interaction.

The other area that truly shines when it comes to "in-person" connections is real estate. This applies to the property itself as well as the agents involved in the transaction.

"Online research is a vital part of the real estate search process, but will never replace an in-person walk-through," said Badger Realty agent David Cianciolo. "Pictures are certainly worth a thousand words, but experiencing the property with all of your senses can't be beat," he continued.

Nobody will ever tell you (with a straight face) that online property research is a waste of time. It is incredibly efficient and allows you to experience property listings across the globe. For our vacation property buyers, this technology is literally priceless. For folks moving to a new city, the ability to explore neighborhoods and homes from across the country can't be beat.

You can imagine the hassle involved in this process before the Internet. It involved hours in the car or travel across time zones, followed by a mad rush to see as many listings as possible. Now all that research can be done from the comfort of your couch (or, who are we kidding, from your office!).

But visiting a property in person is a visceral experience that can't be replicated online. You get to cruise around the neighborhood on your way to the home. You can see the condition of all the houses surrounding it and see how it stacks up. You can check out the actual condition of the downtown area instead of being duped by the "marketing photos" you found online. I can't help but think of all the stories of first dates gone wrong. The interaction that happens when one of the parties was not completely honest in their online profile. With an in-person visit, all of that mystery evaporates, for better or worse.

Seeing and walking through the home itself is another experience altogether. I want to be crystal clear that I believe real estate professionals do not intentionally mislead their prospective buyers with "creative" photography, but I will say that the image gallery you are seeing online is about 25 percent of the actual images taken. We can all thank digital photography for that. I have crammed myself into closets, stood up on dining room tables and even tromped around in a muddy yard in order to get the best angle and the best photo for a client's listing.

When you actually visit the home, you are able to see all of those "angles" that were not included in the online profile. You are also able to really experience the things that may surprise you. You can see the incredible hardwood floors that didn't really shine in the photos. You are able to notice that those windows, although a little dirty in the photos, are actually newly replaced and very well insulated. Most of all, you can "be" in the rooms themselves and truly evaluate their size and scale, regardless of where the furniture (or camera) is placed.

Online experiences are getting more and more realistic every day. If you have experienced "virtual reality" you have seen what the future of our visual experience is going to be like. But nothing, in this pre-half-a-century old man's opinion, will ever replace the in-person sensation. I encourage you to get your homework done and give your real estate professional a call. The market is starting to simmer and it's time to get out there and see, feel, touch and smell your prospective new home. If you can "taste" the property you are visiting, that's usually not a good sign!

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