How to Use Real Estate Websites to Hone Your Research

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If you search for real estate or homes for sale, you’ll find dozens of websites vying for your attention. In my research, I’ve found that I consistently visit just a few of these sites. Here are my favorite research sites, each with a different purpose.

Preliminary Real Estate Research

I like to use Cyberhomes to do my preliminary real estate research. Although I sort of know the neighborhoods I want to live in, they make it easy to check out nearby schools and see what sorts of people live there. I also like that I can use the side nav to change my options without rerunning the whole search.

Home Price Research

Two sites are the best when it comes to determining a home’s true price. I use both Redfin and PropertyShark to check out past sales prices, property tax rates, and other key details that are important if you’re planning to make an offer. It can also be a good way to be nosy. Just what did that Short Sale originally pay?

I don’t use Zillow because they create their own estimates and the prices don’t seem to be completely accurate in a falling market. I’m seeing a lot that are way over-valued.

Find Local Open Houses

Trulia now has an open house search. You can enter multiple zipcodes and the kinds of properties you want to see. Click the “listing preview” button to see the date and time for upcoming showings. You can also try OpenHouse.com.

Receive MLS Listings by Email

I discovered, quite by accident, that Just Listed can help you get MLS emails. I filled out a few details (I didn’t even go as far as address and phone number), and now a receive MLS emails whenever new listings in my original price range and zip code are posted. It’s a great way to get a feel for the local real estate market. I’ve watched prices decline and discovered details like HOA dues that aren’t included on other sites.

The Big Daddy of Real Estate Websites

Realtor is the site owned by the National Association of Realtors. They have the most real estate listings and you can fine-tune the search for must-have features. I wish their listings were more detailed – they don’t all include square footage – but they do make it easy to add additional zip codes to your search or change the prices.

Of course, none of these sites are a substitute for a professional real estate agent. Redfin will act as your intermediary, but I wouldn’t do that as a first time home buyer. Maybe I’d consider it if I was moving up, but I want professional guidance on my first time out there in the market. Use these sites to start your research, get a feel for what’s on the market, and figure out what you can realistically expect to find in your price range and prospective neighborhoods. Then call in a professional to help you work out the touring and bidding.

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