Then they hotfooted it around the local banks and building societies to get details of mortgage products, and came home with a stack of literature.
Not any more.
Clicks and mortar
Nowadays, it's almost possible to complete the whole property process online. OK, there are a few things you can't achieve 'virtually' - you still need to visit a property and walk around it (though technically you can make an offer without doing that), and you still need to sign certain documents and post them back to your lender or solicitor. But the vast majority of the process can be done with a few clicks – from anywhere in the world, at any time of day or night.
But before you start looking to buy or sell online, read our top tips on making the process easier:
Let the internet do your sums: Work out what you can roughly borrow by using one of the mortgage calculators on lenders' websites as well as on comparison sites. It won't give you a definitive figure but you will get an idea of the maximum you can borrow based on your deposit size and your income. That way you know your homebuying budget. You can even apply online for a decision in principle from a lender, which will show estate agents that you are a serious buyer.
Go property snooping: Get onto the major property portals to quickly find out what's available in your area and your budget. Rightmove is the UK's largest portal, and the sixth most popular UK website, and you can tailor your search to match your needs. If you like the look of a place you can simply click a button onsite to request a callback from the agent handling the sale.
Email the agents: The portals are great, but don't forget to register directly with estate agents on their websites. This might seem unnecessary if you are scanning Rightmove, but there can be an advantage. Most properties are up on the estate agents' websites for a day or so before they are swept up by Rightmove. If you are buying in a popular location, getting in quickly and arranging viewings could make all the difference. Equally by registering your interest with agents, the good ones will let you know when they put up a new property that suits your needs. So you get to the front of the queue.
Apply for your homeloan online: You don't have to spend ages in a bank or on the phone to a lender to get a mortgage. It is possible to apply online for your homeloan, 24/7. However, online mortgage applications are made on an 'information only' basis which means that you do not receive advice. This is fine for people who are confident about what they want but not if you require advice. Also make sure you have the correct paperwork to hand before applying for a mortgage online, as it will save you time having to scramble for it. You will need to know your income, your deposit amount, and details of any loans or other debts.
Take internet advice: You might want the flexibility of using the internet to arrange your mortgage but also want the reassurance of getting independent mortgage advice from a professional broker. They can look at your circumstances and preferences and search the market to find the right products for you. And many brokers are happy to deal with you online. You can contact with them via email, although an initial phonecall is usually required, and some have technology that allows you to track your application online.
Ditch the high street agent: If you are selling your home it's worth taking a look at online estate agents. While a high street agent will usually charge 1-2% of your property's value, some online agents charge as little as 0.25% or even a flat fee of a few hundred pounds. Many offer a menu approach to their pricing so you pay more if you want a for sale sign and accompanied viewings for example. You can tailor the service and price to your needs.
Get on the portals: If you do decide to sell online make sure you double check where you property will be marketed. It is essential you are on the major property portals, particularly Rightmove, in order to reach as many purchasers as possible.