Over the last several years, real estate shopping has gone from viewing homes in-person to online. Today, most shoppers start their search on the web before they view the home in person. House shopping sites began springing up in 2013, with Zillow leading the pack. There are significant advantages to online real estate sites, but there are also some pitfalls to avoid. Today we’re going to give you our top tips on how to be a savvy shopper and find your dream home.
How to Look for Houses Online
Today, it’s easy to find homes for sale online. But, how do you find the right one for you? First of all, in a seller’s market you have to be fast. As soon as a new home goes on the market you need to be ready to take a look both online and in person if you’re interested.
When it’s a buyer's market and there are more sellers than buyers you don’t have to be as quick. One point to keep in mind is if you have a real estate agent that you want to work with, let them know you’ve found a home online you’re interested in. Don’t reach out to the listing agent — let your realtor do that.
What are the best websites to look for houses?
Hands down, the top five websites you’ll want to visit listing homes for sale are:
Each site has similar data, including property details, property history, and lots of images. Take some time to check out each site to see which one you like the best. Select your top two or three favorites and download their app on your phone so you can be alerted to new listings.
Disadvantages of House Buying Websites
Just like with social media profiles, what you see online isn’t necessarily what you’ll see in person. That profile picture that makes you look slimmer, smarter, and richer doesn’t always match your everyday persona in sweats and slippers. The same is true when viewing homes for sale online. Camera angles make small rooms look larger, dark rooms look lighter, and dirty walls appear cleaner.
So, when looking at real estate listings online, watch for these red flags:
- No pictures (or very few) could mean the property has major flaws.
- More pictures of the exterior than the interior may indicate the inside isn’t great.
- More pictures of the local community than the home is another bad sign.
- A home in a flood zone, can mean trouble and high insurance rates.
- Handyman special is a dead giveaway there’s plenty of deferred maintenance.
- There are multiple homes for sale in the same neighborhood, find out why.
- Quaint and cozy means small, so don’t get fooled by flowery language.
- Odd-looking photos mean they’re probably manipulated to look better.
- Long on the market — find out why and go from there. Maybe it just fell out of escrow.
- Images of a messy and cluttered interior is just a sample of what you’ll see in person.
Advantages of Real Estate Shopping Online
One of the biggest advantages of shopping for homes online is the speed of new information. The main sites get updated daily — sometimes several times, so you’ll know about new listings quickly. But so will thousands of other shoppers.
Although it’s important not to make a buying decision from marketing alone – you can get a good idea about the property to see if it’s a possibility. If it is, do a drive-by. Then, schedule a showing if you like the neighborhood and the property's exterior.
When looking at online real estate listings, focus on the facts.
- Square footage
- Number of bedrooms and baths
- Asking price
- $ per square foot
- Neighborhood safety
- Property tax history
- Property history
- School district
- Flood zone status if applicable
- HOA dues
- Days on the market
Real Estate Listings - For Sale By Owner (FSBO)
When looking for homes being sold directly by the owner and not through a real estate broker, you’ll need to be a bit more careful. You will see these listings on Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and Realtor — although you might have to dig a bit to find them. But, unlike real estate companies that have a reputation to protect and reviews you can read, initially, you won’t know who you’re dealing with. But, it’s possible to find a FSBO home that you love and have a successful purchase. One big advantage of buying a FSBO is the price. Since realtors aren’t involved, and the seller doesn’t have to pay any real estate commissions – the price should be lower.
You’ll need to do your research since some of the data might not be readily available. If you’re getting financing, your lender will let you know what information they’ll need. To begin with, look at the tax rolls to see how much property taxes are, along with the ownership history. It’s also wise to get a real estate attorney to look over the contract. And of course, you’ll have to have the property inspections, and appraisal so make sure that any contract gives you enough time to get your inspections and financing. Ask the seller if they have a current survey. Otherwise, you’ll need to get one so you can see where the property lines are.
Watch the deadlines for your inspections closely. Otherwise, when they expire, you've automatically accepted those conditions. When the inspections come back, you’ll need to review them carefully and renegotiate or get out of the contract if needed.
As you can see, there is a lot more work to do when you buy a property directly from the owner. But you can find some good deals too so it may be worth it.
Real Estate Shopping Can be Fun
No matter where you find your new home, enjoy the hunt. We hope these tips and pitfalls to avoid have helped you. Good luck!