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Online Home Searches: Convenient, But Not Always Accurate

These days, the first thing many Americans do when they decide they want to buy a home is search for real estate online. In fact, over 80% of homebuyers start their search for a home on the Internet, according to the National Association of Realtors. There are both advantages and disadvantages to searching for houses online, but doing so can be a helpful tool overall, when done correctly.

Popular real estate Websites include Zillow, Trulia and Redfin.

These sites, all free to home buyers, let you search available homes by desired price range, neighborhood, and specific criteria like number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Buyers can get dozens of listings from the comfort of home without the need for a Realtor. Although some buyers prefer to purchase a home without a Realtor, looking at FSBOs, or “For Sale By Owners” only. Others know they would like the help of a Realtor but aren’t sure who to use yet and want to get a better feel for the market before choosing a Realtor.

But before you jump on the online home-search bandwagon, consider the drawbacks.

The houses shown online are not always updated or even accurate. Houses are sometimes listed with an address and price but do not convey the information that the listing is a short sale or foreclosure. This can be a waste of time if you know you’re only looking for a house to buy through a traditional sale. It’s also not uncommon for a potential homebuyer to find a home that he’s interested in online, only to find out from a Realtor that it’s already been sold but is still listed as “active” online. Listings on home search websites are not always syndicated directly from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), so listing agents actually have to go in to each website and manually input the data. Once a house is sold, Realtors are required to change the data to reflect the new status in their local MLS, but often forget to do so on the countless other number of websites that they’ve posted their listing’s information. Additionally, not every listing agent chooses to post their listings on home search websites, as buyer’s agents use the MLS to send appropriate listings to their clients. Therefore looking at only houses posted online limits your view of other houses in your criteria.

Don’t give up completely on using the Internet to look for houses. If you’re already working with a Realtor, ask her to set you up for automatic emails from the MLS whenever a new home matching your criteria is listed. This way you will get a continual stream of houses to look at, in your email box, with all the details and pictures. When you find some you really like, you can let your Realtor know which you’d like to see in person.

Remember that seeing pictures of houses online should never take the place of seeing a house in person. Pictures can be outdated but standing in a house is the easiest way to decide whether you like it or not. If you find houses online that you are interested in, don’t hesitate to email the links or addresses to your Realtor so that she can verify the information for you. The best way to approach the task of searching for a home is to combine the resources of the Internet, the help of a Realtor and the accuracy of seeing homes in the real world.

Published or updated on October 15, 2010

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.


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