These days, we seemingly do everything online. We communicate with one another, shop for gifts and groceries, learn about new things, and even find out who’s related to us. So, why not look for your next home online rather than waste all that time driving back and forth to possible homes that might interest you?
Makes sense, right? Most homes are now advertised online, so it seems the logical first place to go when it’s time to start shopping for that perfect house. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, from work, on your phone. It’s convenient and allows you to do some “trimming down” before you make a list of houses you’d like to see.
However, there are some caveats to online house shopping, and it’s important to be aware of these pitfalls as well as the advantages of searching for homes online.
Choose sites carefully
If you’re delving into the world of online listings for the first time, it’s essential to know where to look and which sites to avoid. Places like Craigslist, for example, can be trouble. While we’re sure that there are honest sellers on that site, more often than not, someone selling a house on Craigslist is hiding something or very well could be a scam artist.
Instead, begin your search on reliable sites that are monitored by and include listings from professionals in the real estate field. These include:
These sites get their information from local and regional multiple-listing services (MLS) and databases of properties shared by brokers and agents. Each allows you to filter information so that you can tailor your search to your needs, i.e., price range, number of bedrooms, specific communities, etc. You can save listings that interest you and go back to them at a later date. These sites are also updated frequently, usually several times a day.
It’s important to remember, however, that not all MLSs participate in any one particular site, so you’re not receiving a complete overview of the properties available in the locale in which you are searching. Still, you’re getting a good overall picture of the area in which you’d like to buy.
However…do a little research before you start
You’ll likely be overwhelmed when you begin your search, so before you even head to the sites mentioned above, it’s a good idea to set some parameters.
If you’re searching for a home in a large city, for example, choose a neighborhood or neighborhoods that you are considering so that you can filter the listings down. Also, think about price range, style of home, number of beds and baths, how much land you want, and other specifics that will certainly help you feel less confused by the offerings. (If you’re searching in a small town or community, this will likely be less of a problem.)
Don’t be awed by the photos
Remember, the photos you see on an online listings website are only the ones that show the home in its best light. The home you love may have a beautiful new bath, pictured in the listing, but the kitchen might be from the 1970s! And that lovely garden in that colorful photo? It could be it hasn’t looked like that since 1997!
While most photos are helpful, they can be especially concerning when the listing is a FSBO - for-sale-by-owner. (Most of these websites do indeed list FSBOs.) While one would hope that realtor-controlled listings would include honest and realistic information AND photos, owners trying to make a sale on their own will often do anything possible to avoid showing potential buyers a home’s weaknesses. Some even post enhanced photos that aren’t really true-to-life.
Remember, photos are just the icing on the cake. While they can attract you to a particular house, you need to investigate further to make sure that home is truly what you need and want.
Use websites as a stepping-off point
While real estate websites are a great way to get started, there’s nothing better than having the knowledge and expertise of a licensed real estate agent on your side.
Most agents will appreciate that you have reduced their legwork a bit by doing a little searching before you contact them. Still, they stand ready to help you with other details, including assisting you in determining which homes on your list are the right ones for you. And, of course, there’s nothing like a personal tour of those homes, guided by your agent, who can answer any questions those online listings may not have addressed.