With so much digital information available to consumers, many people interested in buying a home often start their search online. According to a 2013 study conducted by The National Association of Realtors and Google, the internet is a primary resource for approximately 90% of individuals shopping for a home. More than half of individuals started their search online before looking for any other assistance. There are so many websites, it can be difficult to know where to begin. This article details the five best places to start an online home buying search.
Traditionally, individuals interested in purchasing a home would seek the assistance of a real estate agent first and foremost. It was the job of the agent to find homes for sale in the client’s price range, arrange tours of homes, and negotiate with the seller’s agent. They would search through multiple listings, find leads, and speak with other agents in the area to select homes for clients to tour. It was their job to seek out information on home sales and then pass that information along to their clients.
Now, their role has shifted. Instead of providing information to the clients, the clients are seeking out that information for themselves, and they are doing much of their searching online. They only contact a realtor after they know the homes they are interested in touring. The agent then calls the seller’s agent to arrange a home showing. Real estate agents are still crucial to the home buying process, but the buyers are involving themselves more in the research phase. There are many ways to gather information using online sources. The top five places to begin include search engines, real estate company sites, real estate databases, videos, and mortgage lender sites.
To begin a home search, start with an online search engine. Here, you can get as specific with your search as you want. In your search phrase, you can include the city, neighborhood, architectural style, price range, and type of sale (auction, foreclosure, short sale, or conventional) that most interests you. From here, you will see a wide range of sites that you can visit. While clicking back and forth between the search engine results and different websites, make sure to keep track of which sites have beneficial information. You can either bookmark the site, or copy and paste the site link into an offline document that you are using to take notes during your search. This way, you can revisit those sites later in your home search, as well as provide more accurate and up-to-date information for your real estate agent.
There are other advantages to using a search engine during your research, in addition to finding dozens of websites listing homes that fit your specific criteria. The first is the use of maps and street-level panorama images. Once you have found homes that interest you, note the address and neighborhood for each residence. Then, use the search engine to enter this information. You can view maps showing the location of the home, and its proximity to other resources, like grocery stores, parks, schools, and restaurants. Try to make a list of your desired distance from various amenities and your place of employment. Then use the maps generated by the search engine to determine the distances from each place. This will give you a better idea of the amount of time you can expect to spend in the car going from your new home to other locations.
Many of these maps have the option to switch from a bird’s eye view to the perspective of someone standing at street-level. You can use this option to see images of the street and neighborhood of your potential new home. From this viewpoint, you can note the characteristics of the neighborhood, like old-growth trees, the level of traffic on nearby streets, and whether or not your future neighbors have taken the time to maintain their lawns and the outside of their homes.
Search engines are useful for finding information on crime levels as well. You can search by city or neighborhood to find various crime reports, maps, and statistics. In addition, your search will likely produce news articles discussing the change in crime rates over time, and possibly interviews with residents of those areas. You can then match each home for sale to a specific neighborhood, and then compare that to the crime information. This will provide you with additional information about a location, aside from general data on the home itself and the nearby amenities.
Real Estate Sites
Most major real estate companies have their own branded websites. You can use a search engine to find companies that operate in your desired town or state. When you click on the site link and the page opens, you will discover a new way to search for homes. The advantage to searching for homes in this manner is that the homes in the company’s database use the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS is updated several times each hour, meaning that the selection of homes will be as up-to-date as possible. Many companies also have an app for smartphones and tablets, so that your home searching capabilities are always at your fingertips.
On most real estate company sites, you can select whether you would like to find out additional information on homes for sale, for rent, specific agents, or the location of company offices. To narrow your search, select the option to view only homes that are for sale, and not those that are for rent. Then, you can type your desired location into the search bar. The real estate site will populate a list of all the homes that fit your location specifications. You can then narrow your search even further by selecting:
- Number of bedrooms
- Number of bathrooms
- Minimum home price
- Maximum home price
Sometimes, company sites will have more advanced options as well. You can select the type of property, like townhome, condo, or farm. You can also choose other options. For example, you might only be interested in homes that have fireplaces or an outdoor pool. The more specific you are with your search, the easier it will be to find your new home.
Real Estate Databases
There are other sites dedicated to home searches that are not specific to any particular real estate company. These third-party websites are known as real estate database sites. Similar to the company websites, you can search by homes for sale or rent, find an agent, and search for other resources. In the search bar, you enter the desired location. Then, you can narrow your search by listing type (agent, owner, foreclosure), price, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, lot size, and much more. Many sites also have an app for smartphones and tablets, similar to real estate company apps.
Once you select a home, it provides additional information that you might not find on real estate company sites. For example, the site will note the last date that the home sold and the price it sold for. With the current listing, it will detail the date it was listed, and if the seller has changed the price since then. You can then compare that to the site’s estimated value for the home. Sometimes, these two values are quite different, so speak with an agent to find out more. The site will also provide any tax assessor information, such as the assessed value of the home, the change in value over time, and the yearly property taxes.
While the real estate database sites often have a wealth of information for perspective buyers, many do not have the advantage of the multiple listing service. Therefore, the homes for sale in a particular town may not be updated with the same accuracy or speed as a company website.
Often, these websites include homes that are for sale, as well as those that are not. This feature can be used to your advantage. You can search for homes in the same area that recently sold. Then, you can compare the sale prices of homes with similar square footage, bedrooms, and bathrooms, to the home that you are interested in purchasing. Using that information, you can speak with your real estate agent about submitting a reasonable offer.
Many real estate companies, home sellers, and agents have contributed videos for potential homebuyers to view online. This is another great way to start a home buying search. Using a video-sharing website, individuals can find out more information about specific homes, neighborhoods, and realtors.
For example, imagine that you have found a home that checks every box on your list. It is in the right price range, has the number of bedrooms and bathrooms that you want, and is in a great school district. In addition to providing photos of the inside and outside of the home, the website also has links to several videos. One provides a narrated tour of the inside of the home. The selling agent walks through each room of the home talking about the size of each room and its unique features. These type of videos provide the potential buyer with a better perspective on the layout of the home, and provide the selling agent with the opportunity to give interested parties additional information about the property.
In addition to a video tour, the site might also provide a video explaining the surrounding community, discussing local amenities that might be of interest to the homebuyer. Some real estate companies might also have videos providing customer tutorials, “how to” videos on starting a home search, or comparisons with other companies.
Mortgage Lender Sites
Last, but not least, mortgage lender websites are an essential component of anyone starting their home buying search online. If you are considering buying a home, you need to know your budget. The best way to determine how much you could realistically afford to spend on a home is to contact mortgage companies. Most major lenders have online sites that you can use to have your initial questions answered. These websites usually have a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page that includes questions like, “How can I estimate how much I can afford to borrow for a home?” and “How can I apply for a mortgage?”
In addition to providing information on the different types of mortgages available, and the lending process, you can get pre-qualified for a loan. It is a quick and free process that provides an estimate of how much you can borrow. There is an online form that you can complete in which you need to provide your income, assets, and possibly a credit check. Keep in mind that this is only an estimate, and the lender will not necessarily approve you when you complete a formal application. However, getting pre-qualified shows selling agents that you are knowledgeable about your finances and are serious about buying a home.
Now that you have the tools, you can start your online home buying search. There is a wealth of information available, so take matters into your own hands by using search engines, real estate company websites, real estate databases, videos, and mortgage lender sites.
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