Nine out of ten people who search for a new home use the Web at some point. According to Google, the number of real-estate related searches appearing on this browser increased 253% in four years.
We rely on our mobile devices for all sorts of research and purchases, so why not use this power tool when tackling the hunt for the perfect home? But, like any other online research, make sure you’re using the right resources that will give you accurate and useful information. Here are some tips for successful online home searches
- Use a reliable real estate search site. Realtor, Zillow, and Trulia are the most common sites for browsing listings. Realtor is the most up-to-date of the three, but you probably won’t find “For Sale By Owner” listings there. The site is sponsored by the National Association of Realtors, so it feels no obligation to list properties that aren’t represented by one of its members. Zillow is useful for gauging home values (although the numbers are calculated using an algorithm, so don’t count on them as a negotiating tool). Trulia has some valuable features, like using map overlays to learn more about a neighborhood’s schools, crime statistics, and amenities.
- Know your priorities and deal-breakers. To avoid wasting your time with homes that just don’t meet your needs, make a list of your criteria—location, size, age, and maximum price of the home, number of bedrooms and baths, lot size, and home style (e.g., single-family, duplex, condo, townhome). Enter those into your home search, as well as any other important features, like a swimming pool, attached garage, basement, fireplace, central air, handicap accessible, hardwood floors, or water view. You can specify new construction or look only for homes within communities. Start with the “must have” list so you don’t exclude a possible winner that is only lacking a feature that you could honestly live without.
- Research the school system. If you have school-age children, you can easily learn about the quality of the schools in the district. Go to org to review the ratings of each school, including private, charter, and magnet schools.
- Check out the neighborhood. If you’re new to the area you’re searching, it’s important to learn about the neighborhoods. Sites like Neighborhood Scout show you statistics on crime, average income levels, public school test scores, and home value trends. HomeFair has a tool that lets you compare the population’s demographics, including cost of living, between two cities. Go to Google Maps to get a satellite view of the area, with locations of nearby schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other services. If you’re unsure about the weather in the new area, visit The Weather Channel’s website.
- Check out the social, cultural, and recreation scenes. The city or regional Chamber of Commerce is a great resource for identifying popular local attractions, historical sites, and activities. Visit Facebook pages for those areas, and also search in to see what’s happening.
Of course, there’s only one way to truly get the feel for a home, a street, a neighborhood, and a town. Go for a drive, look around, stop and talk to people—you know, the old-fashioned, “manual” method.