Do you admit to having a secret dream home? A place that you would give almost anything to own, if it ever came on the market and you had an exclusive chance to bid on it?

Well, there may be a discreet new way for you to make that dream house your very own. A Web site known as HomeRoute ( has just introduced a feature that allows anyone with a serious infatuation with a specific house, anywhere in the United States, to find out whether it might be available for sale--even though its owners haven't listed it or decided to sell.

Using the "Dream Track" option on HomeRoute, you can make indirect contact with the owners of the house you love. Here's how it works. After you register with HomeRoute and enter the address of the house, you will be contacted by one of the Web site's more than 5,000 participating local real estate agents. If you're financially qualified to even consider making a bid on the property, the agent will approach the current owners and let them know that there's a ready and willing buyer for their property, if they would consider selling.

Only if the owners say they might be willing to sell, at a price still to be negotiated, does the agent disclose your identity. But why would the current owners be interested? Two reasons, says Steven Nickerson, HomeRoute's president and chief executive.

"A lot of owners are open to an eventual sale," he said in an interview, "but they can't stand the idea of showing their home to hordes of people or all the hassles of formally listing the house for sale."

A second key motivation: HomeRoute offers sellers a deal they generally can't find in the regular marketplace--deeply discounted brokerage fees. Sales commissions average 2.5 percent to 4 percent, compared with the 6 percent to 7 percent they would otherwise have to pay.

"Not only do [the owners] get a single, pre-qualified, buyer" at an acceptable price, said Nickerson, "they also get charged a much lower commission" because the agent's marketing costs are lower and there's no other agent demanding a split.

Here are a few other real estate-related Web sites that offer something different:

* Looking for cash discounts on just about any home-related service you can imagine? Try a visit to, for everything from mortgage money to maid service, security systems, home inspections, pest control and lawn care. Most of the participating suppliers are part of national chains, such as ChemLawn, Merry Maids, Terminix and House Master. The individual discounts range from $20 to $25 off maid and lawn services to what the site claims are 40 percent to 60 percent discounts on moving services, and as much as 70 percent off insurance premiums. Discounts of up to 1 percent of a home purchase price are available for visitors who use affiliated realty agents from Coldwell Banker, Century 21, Prudential Real Estate, ReMax, ERA and others.

* Want to check out the relative environmental quality of your community or one to which you're considering moving? Then log onto Scorecard (, a site run by the Environmental Defense Fund. Type in the Zip code you're interested in, and you can learn all sorts of things about local air quality, water quality, radon, solid waste, and even the names and addresses of the area's biggest polluters. One limitation: The site taps into an extensive list of federal and state environmental databases, some of which contain statistics that date back a few years.

* If you want to compare educational quality, cost-of-living, crime rates and other local quality-of-life indexes nationwide, HomeFair ( can be a useful resource. For example: If you're thinking of retiring from Bethesda to Flagstaff, Ariz., HomeFair can tell you that the relative cost-of-living differential between the two allows you to cut your household income when you move to Flagstaff. To maintain the same style of living you're accustomed to in Maryland on an income of $80,000, you'll need about $16,000 less in Flagstaff.

Concerned about crime? Say you're thinking of moving from Berkeley, Calif., to Boca Raton, Fla. HomeFair's "Relocation Crime Laboratory" statistical database compiled from local and federal law enforcement records shows that Boca's crime rate index rating is just one-third that of Berkeley's.

* And more: If you want to buy or sell real estate via an online auction, check out Homebid ( For owner-to-consumer vacation condominiums and home rentals, minus broker fees, try VacationDirect ( For answers to practical questions on using--and getting rid of--private mortgage insurance coverage, visit the insurers' own site for consumers at