The best online tools to help you find a home
There was a time when the only way to find homes for sale was by getting involved Real estate agent to send you listings or drive around the streets looking for “for sale” signs.
In the past decade, an explosion in online real estate listings has dramatically changed the way Americans look for homes. With a click of the mouse you can now determine the selling price of the neighboring house, search for offers in a specific school zone and take virtual tours of the houses you are interested in.
With the multiple listing service (or a decent facsimile), most potential buyers these days have sent listings to their agents, rather than the other way around.
Home buyers can view properties for sale at realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, or your agent’s website, among others. In some cities, the local multi-quote service includes a consumer website.
And yes, there is an app for that. All major services have mobile apps, and you can receive text notifications and take notes on your phone when your major other drives pass by. Some apps show you houses that you might like based on your searches and the ones you’ve already viewed.
Rather than eliminating this deluge of online information, real estate agents have changed their role from listing keeper to being negotiator and leader.
Katie Curnette, director of communications at Zillow, recently looked for a home in the Seattle area. Her agent said to her, “I won’t find you the house … I’ll get it for you. We would find a listing and he would take us there that night,” she says.
Some services, such as B. realtor.com and Redfin are bound to the multiple listing service. There are many areas in which you can search the MLS using agent or company websites. How well this user interface works depends on the company. You may want to experiment with several to find a search that suits your needs.
The services associated with the MLS are updated every 15 minutes, which means that these entries are the most current. Entries on sites like Zillow and Trulia can lag behind by hours or days. However, these portals contain information that is not included in the MLS lists.
For example, a collection that does not have an address in the MLS-linked services may have an address on Zillow or Trulia. Most portals refer to data from public records, which means that the information is better in states where better data is available.
Both Trulia and Zillow sell ads to real estate agents, and the agents who advertise are highlighted next to real estate listings. The recommended agents aren’t necessarily the listing agents for the homes you see and may not even specialize in the neighborhood. While you can email questions to these agents, it’s usually better to find your own agent through referrals and direct all questions and requests for demonstrations to the agent working with you.
All websites allow you to set alerts to notify you when a new property comes on the market. This is important in a competitive market where you may need to access new offers right away. Every service has its strengths and weaknesses. To power up your house hunt, you will likely want to use more than one. Here is an overview of four of the largest online real estate services.
Redfin set out to change the way people buy homes through technology. Although the view of a fully electronic transaction is not yet fulfilled, you can view all documents relating to your transaction online after signing a contract. “Don’t rush to Kinko to fax late at night,” said Jani Strand, spokeswoman for Redfin, a real estate agent who employs agents.
Unlike most real estate agents, who are independent contractors, Redfin brokers are salaried employees, and customer reviews help determine their compensation. In addition, Redfin reimburses a portion of the commission to buyers. The company is currently active in 22 US markets, but does not work with buyers in the lower price ranges.
Because it’s part of the MLS, the website doesn’t disclose exact addresses if the seller doesn’t want it, and doesn’t display automated rating data if the listing agent doesn’t want it to be displayed. In some cities, Redfin offers full sales and listing history. Otherwise, you can usually find this information on other websites.
Redfin ‘s listings are from the MLS, which means they are up to date. The real-time alerts are often the first to arrive, usually within 15 minutes of a listing being posted on the MLS.
Redfin, like some of the services, uses an algorithm to show you homes that you may be interested in based on your searches and the homes you’ve viewed. You can also search for houses by listing the school you want your children to attend.
Zillow became famous for his zestimates, Home appraisals derived from a proprietary formula that contains public house sales records. As Zillow gained more data, the estimates have moved closer to reality, although they are still estimates.
Information from old entries lives on at Zillow, which can be valuable if a new entry does not contain photos. It also includes data on homes that are not for sale, and you can click the properties near the properties you want to see sales history, old listing dates, and other information.
Zillow has the most complete transaction history. This is helpful when you want to find out how long a home has really been in the market for. It also includes data on homes that are in pre-foreclosure status and satellite maps so you can see what is near the homes you are looking at.
The service pulls data from a variety of sources including public records, real estate agents, homeowners, tax officials, and some MLS services. Buyers and sellers can update Zillow’s home information online, or list homes for sale or rent.
However, entries sometimes continue as active after the sale. Hence, it is advisable to check the status of a home with one of the services associated with MLS.
Trulia is also a portal that pulls data from a number of sources. It’s a good place to start exploring neighborhoods as there are a number of “heat maps” that make it easy to spot crime, schools, commute times, and amenities like banks and grocery stores in your target area. You can even study the likelihood of a natural disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake.
“You can find some of these statistics elsewhere, but you can’t find them in this format,” said Shannon Field, senior director of product management at Trulia.
In addition to searching for houses by zip code or city, you can also draw a map of the area you want to search. Based on your search history, Trulia will send you suggested homes, as well as notifications of new listings or homes you’ve followed.
Realtor.com is the listing site for the National Association of Realtors. It’s up to date but doesn’t have as many additional features as the other sites. Even so, it’s a good place to check if an entry is up to date.
Clarified on 07/01/2014: An earlier version of this story ignored the fact that Redfin has full sales and listing history in some cities.