The tech boom may have gone bust, but the reality is that three out of four home buyers use the Web for their purchase. That's why more manufacturers are launching Web-based tools, virtual showrooms, and online catalogs for builders and buyers. Appliance manufacturers are leading the charge.

At the 2004 International Builders' Show (IBS), Newton, Iowa-based Maytag will unveil Job Site Connection, a Web-based system that lets builders create custom product packages tailored to specific projects and allows home buyers to research products. The site will also track appliances in transit and generate automatic e-mail alerts about back orders and shipments.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. has Virtual Showroom, a similar site where builders can provide specifics on appliance packages in their homes, and where home buyers can learn about Whirlpool and KitchenAid products. Accessed through the builder's Web site, the showroom will supplement what the builder offers, says Terri Connett, Whirlpool new-business development manager. "It will also improve customer satisfaction by making the appliance selection process easier."

Connett admits the Web is the future in the product selection process, and not just for appliances. That's why a consortium of manufacturers, including Whirlpool, is announcing at the IBS a new company, New Home Technologies, that will offer buyers a "mega showroom" with content, products, and other features. The venture will be half owned by 32 builders and half by the manufacturers.