Can you find a new home online? Realistically, probably not. You will not want to make any final decisions without actually spending time on the street looking at possibilities. So what can you accomplish online? Quite a bit. You can do an enormous amount of preliminary research, compare hundreds of listings in a short time, get information on neighborhoods, get a sense of current price ranges for different types of homes, narrow down your search to a few top possibilities, and more. All of that is excellent preparation for your field search, which makes online shopping worth the effort.
Let’s take a look at the top ten places for your online housing search.
Pros – With over 100 years in business and a service that combines listings from every large and small real estate agent in the United States, the MLS is the most comprehensive source of property listings. Using the MLS is a must, either through your access or the access of an agent. Most websites will give highly questionable property cost estimates, while the MLS give real evaluations.
Cons – The catch with the MLS is that gaining access requires a realtor’s credentials. If you have your own, great. If not, you’ll be dependent on someone who does.
Pros – Zillow provides maps showing the locations of available properties, along with extensive details on both the properties and the neighborhoods, making it a great tool to use for your search. Each property has a “Zestimate” on prices or monthly rentals, along with details on current availability, pending sale, and so on. It even gives you the details of any past sales.
Cons – The “Zestimates” are exactly what the term implies: very rough estimates. Under no circumstances would you use these “Zestimates” in place of a real property evaluation. The MLS is the only website offering accurate information.
Pros – Another good place to locate available properties, Trulia provides many of the same options and information as Zillow, adding to the scope of your search. This site also offers an often better visual presentation of the property, utilizing photos provided by owners and agents.
Cons – As with Zillow, you have to treat the information provided by Trulia as a rough guideline, not a reliable estimate.
Pros – All the features and services offered by Yahoo Homes are free. It will cost you nothing to search for a home to buy or rent, and you also have access to Realtor contact information at no charge. Yahoo is an excellent place to begin a general survey of available property in your target area.
Cons – Not much information is available about the property or community, which is a big catch when making the important decision of where to live. Estimates are not professional evaluations or appraisals.
Pros – This site makes getting your hands on property details very easy, offering everything from property history, the surrounding neighborhoods or schools, the local restaurants, stores, and gas stations. Each listing also comes with a mortgage calculator, which helps you calculate your costs.
Cons – The site does not provide contact information for property owners; you’ll have to go through a real estate agent.
Pros – This service offers some awesome uses of technology, one being the “3D Walkthrough,” a feature that gives you a virtual tour of the home. The “Best-of-Breed Broker app” makes hours of hunting easy and allows you to add notes to a listing. The “Book it Now” feature provides direct appointments with an agent, allowing you to schedule an in-person tour of the property.
Cons – Although RedFin has home search capabilities comparable to Zillow and Realtor.com, only a small percentage of real estate agents are represented on Redfin.
Pros – Other than a map and a “what’s nearby” feature, most sites offer scant information about the surrounding area. Homes.com adds an “explore the neighborhood” feature that delivers a broad range of details about nearby amenities and a street view of the selected home. This feature allows you to check out the surrounding streets, homes, and house values, which makes comparing house prices incredibly easy. It will even give you some information on the local traffic patterns.
Cons – There is no crime rate information available for neighborhoods. Listings may be incomplete and sometimes lack vital information.
Pros – This service provides apps to help renters find apartments, and the apps are compatible with all mobile devices. You can use the filters to check out the price ranges and details or use keywords to find what you’re looking for or search by location. The app will use the GPS on your mobile device to locate what’s available nearby and give you some great high definition photos and floor plans.
Cons – This is for apartments only, so no houses or condos will be listed. There’s also no pricing information available on the surrounding area, so you’ve no quick and easy way to get price comparisons.
Pros – Using a map-based search feature, Hotpads has all 51 states listed. You don’t have to have a real estate agent (whether you’re buying or renting), and they employ full-time employees to assist you.
Cons – Not much of an issue for most of us, but if you’re thinking of using this service to find international property, forget it. It’s not an option.
Pros – The presentation of the listings is by far one of the best formats out there. Rather than display a duplicate of the property’s details, Curbed links you directly to the website of the complex or agent controlling the listing. This feature helps you get in direct contact with the necessary people and gives you access to the verified information.
Cons – The only listings offered by this website are in New York City and the Hampton area. If you’re not looking for a place there, this site won’t be much help.
Can you find affordable housing online? Yes, you can, but in most cases, you won’t be making your final selection online. You’ll need to personally inspect the properties on your shortlist and the neighborhoods around them. Even if they don’t provide enough to get you to your final selection, these websites will allow you to get a strong sense of what’s out there, compare prices, and gain valuable insights into the property market in the areas that interest you, all without having to leave your chair. Even though you’ll have to verify all of the information, this kind of shopping is excellent preparation and can help you narrow down and simplify your actual field search.
These online tools make finding a place a lot easier, saving you hours of house hunting and driving time, but you always need to go and physically see any property before you commit to anything.
Best of luck and happy house hunting!