What You Should Know About Browsing for Homes Online
November 9, 2021
Oh, let’s just admit it, shall we? Browsing for homes online is a window shopper’s Shangri-La. The elegantly decorated rooms, the sculpted gardens, the colorful front doors that just pop with those “come hither” hues.
Browser beware, though: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.
That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street. That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems. That attractively priced condo? Miiiight not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold.
So let’s practice some self-care, shall we, and set our expectations appropriately.
You Keep Current. Your Property Site Should, Too
First things first: You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest cafe society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings.
Get the latest listings from my website, which pulls its information every 10 minutes from the regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means that my site listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart a flutter for a house that’s already off the market.
Let’s put it this way: Zillow is great entertainment, but if you are serious about looking for a home, my search map is the best place to start.
The Best Properties Aren’t Always the Best Looking
A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features.
Ultimately though, ask your real estate agent to help you interpret what you find. The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.
Treat Your Agent Like Your Bestie
At the end of the day, property sites are like CliffsNotes for a neighborhood: They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All that data will give you a working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive.
To assess all of this information — and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest Soul Cycle is — talk to your real estate agent. An agent who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset.
An agent who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems, and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing (when you could otherwise be in the park playing with your canine bestie).
Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:
Just remember: You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amuse bouche to the home-buying entree — a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there.
Once you’ve spent that time online, you’ll be ready to share what you've learned with an agent.