The best bargain in real estate might just be how you find your house.
With gas prices above $4 a gallon, it doesn't make much sense to roam various neighborhoods in an SUV anymore. So how about taking a home tour by bike?
One Colorado real estate agent is doing just that, building his entire business around the idea of bicycling to see homes.
"It takes a lot more time, though, to do the bike tour," said Matt Kolb, the owner and founder of Pedal To Properties. "But I have found that the connection I make with clients -- it just brings us closer together and builds a bond that I don't think I can duplicate anywhere else."
The Boulder, Colo., real estate agent said that people "want to see the neighborhood, not just the house they are buying."
For Kolb, an avid cyclist and triathlete, it is not just about real estate but about a healthy lifestyle.
Boulder is a bit of a unique market for this business: The city has more than 300 miles of bike paths and bike lanes. But Kolb is also looking to expand the concept to other cities, recently talking with agents in Naples, Fla., and Tucson, Ariz.
"It's a great way for clients to see properties. It's also a great way for realtors to stand out and for realtors to connect with their clients a little bit more," Kolb said.
During the summer, his company hosts Wednesday night bike rides in which a dozen buyers hop on bikes and visit a few homes together. After the tour, the groups typically grab dinner or a drink together.
"It's a really cool experience. It gives you an opportunity to slow down and kind of get a real feel for the neighborhoods and meet some of the people there. … It's just not something you can really capture as much from a car. You feel like more of a tourist in a car," said Mike Echery, a friend of Kolb's who recently hired Kolb to help him find a house. "Looking for a house is kind of a stressful process. This kind of takes some of the stress out of it and adds a little more fun factor."
Clients seeking a new home can still travel there by car. And some places are just too far away to get to by bike. Kolb said that about 40 percent of his customers choose the bicycle. That's up from about 30 percent when he launched his business in May 2007. Most homebuyers choose to borrow bikes that Kolb keeps at his office.
Kolb is a fourth-generation contractor who got into the real estate business by working as a mortgage broker to pay his way through college. He then quit school and stayed in the mortgage business; he also started fixing up homes and flipping them.
"I would buy a property, I'd fix it up on my own, market it myself and then sell it," he said.
That eventually led to a job as a real estate agent.
The idea for biking to homes came from a client looking to move to Boulder. They had spent the day looking at properties and didn't find anything. That night, the client grabbed a cruiser bike from his hotel, rode around on his own and ended up finding a home.
"He rode his bike though the same neighborhood we drove through," Kolb said. "He just couldn't get a feel for it from inside my vehicle."
So Kolb decided to get a few bicycles. "I just took a leap of faith."
Kolb said that he and business partner Chris Sweeny now do about 45 to 55 transactions a year.
While the bikes are just one part of his business, Kolb said they help him stand out in a crowded field--and get some exercise. Plus, he said his customers seem to really like the experience.
"You just really get a feel for a neighborhood when you're riding through it," said Scott Strode, who bought a house through Pedal To Properties. "Driving from one neighborhood to another and just hopping in and out of the car to see properties, you just don't get the same feel."