The internet is a wonderful place to begin your home search. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of great sites on which you can search for homes, view pictures, research schools, shopping and the cultural arts. Unfortunately the internet is not perfect, and often can lead to misinformation and frustration.
At the beginning of this quest, you should ask yourself what the purpose of the search really is. If you are only browsing cities or neighborhoods to see what might be available, or what the price range might be, then the internet is the perfect place to start. On the other hand, if you are trying to find the value of your current home, or you are seriously looking to purchase a home, then the third party real estate sites may not be your best bet.
If you combine your research from one of the third party sites, and then use Google Earth to ‘walk’ the neighborhood, you can get a pretty good idea of both values and what the area and buildings look like, and it can be fun.
The most visited sites are Trulia, Zillow, Realtor, and Homes.com. As mentioned earlier, there are thousands of other sites, but these are the most visited.
Presuming you are actually in the market to either buy or sell, how can these third party sites assist or possibly misinform you?
If you are selling, you could use these sites to see how similar homes are priced. You can compare your home to the pictures posted on other listings to make value adjustments for improvements or deficiencies in comparison to your home. You can also make further adjustments for lot size, views, neighborhood, schools etc. Obviously if a similar home has great lake views, and your home backs up to a cement plant, there will need to be an adjustment in value. What I would not rely on, are the on-line evaluation tools than many of the sites offer. You should read the disclaimers in those evaluation tools as one of them states clearly that they use “estimated market value, computed using a proprietary formula”. Although I’m not quite sure what this ‘proprietary formula’ could be, it’s certainly not very accurate. This same site further explains that there might be a variance of up to fifteen percent. I don’t know about you, but in South County where homes are selling for between $400,000 and $2M, 15% adds up fast. Do the math, if your home is worth $600K, they allow a variance of up to $90,000, at $1M the variance is a cool $150K. Those are not acceptable variances when making major decisions.
Your best bet is to call a trusted local Realtor and have them provide a comparative market analysis. A local expert should be able to tell you in a few minutes what the current market is, what similar homes have sold for, and what competition exists in the market, all in real time. No guessing, no giant variance and customized to your home in today’s market.
For buyers, the internet can be equally informing as it is frustrating. You can perform all the research you desire, but often when you find a home you like, you discover that it is already sold. This scenario will be repeated multiple times until you are so frustrated that you give up on the search.
What the third party sites do extremely well is capture listing information from the Multiple Listing Services, and provide it to consumers in an understandable format. Where they fall short, is that they seldom update the information to reflect homes that are pending, cancelled or sold. Consequently, we speak to buyers daily who want information or schedule a viewing on a property that’s unavailable.
Once again your best bet is to talk to a local realtor. The information realtors have is current and accurate. We can provide a list of homes that are actually available, customized to your needs and desires. Better information, less frustration, less wasted energy and much better results.