#1. To See If Megan's Law Registrants Live Nearby
Safety first, folks. Megan's law requires law-enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders in their neighborhoods. Nearly every state that has a Megan's law-type sex offender registry has an online version that serves up the names, addresses, sex-offense history, and even photos in many cases, of convicted sex offenders who are registered as living at a certain address. Googling your address and "Megan's law" -- or even your city or zip code and "Megan's law" -- will turn up a quick list of nearby registrants. Alarmism is not a good look -- ever, but many homebuyers with young children highly value this information, especially while they are still in their contingency or objection period, before their home purchase is finalized.
#2. To Find Crime Reports and Data for Your Home and Environs
Cities, counties and state law enforcement agencies all post crime data online, but a Google search for your address or city and "crime reports" is most likely to turn up your local police or sheriff's office's crime map. Or, you can check out the crime stats around a specific property on Trulia's Map & Nearby tab on the detailed page for your home's address. In my town, for example, you can see a crime map of recent incident reports for the whole city, by zip code, by neighborhood or by address. You can zoom in and out, and the map is in color and letter-coded with little icons representing different types of crimes: red is for violent, blue is for drug crimes, green is for property crimes; and the most common specific offenses reported get their own two-letter code. Whether you own or rent your home, if you hear a siren and wonder what happened, Google might be a good place to look.
#3. To Detect Scammers Trying to Rent or Sell Your House. In one of those if-only-they-would-use-their-powers-for-good-not-evil scenarios, Internet scammers have taken to ripping off home information and putting together fake listings offering other people's homes for rent or, often, lease-to-own. They often list the home on extremely cheap and easy terms, then ask the would-be-buyer or tenant to please wire or send the deposit money overseas, where the faux-seller can get it while they're traveling in -- you guessed it -- Nigeria.
# 4. To See What Your Neighbor's Place Sold for and Possibly Lower Your Property Taxes. In real estate, the value of your home is largely driven by what similar, nearby homes have recently sold for ("comparable sales," or "comps" for short). That gives every homeowner a valid reason for wanting to know what the neighbor's place sold for (on top of your purely voyeuristic need to know). If you search your address, Trulia will first surface some sort of image of your home, a map, the basic property details from the public records (see No. 5, below), and recent sales data for your own home before listing out the comps -- homes with similar numbers of bedrooms, bathrooms and square feet as yours, near yours, and what they recently sold for. And as an added bonus, if you see a pattern of homes selling for lower than your home's assessed value, you can use those comps to petition your County to lower your own property taxes!
#5. To See Your Home's Property Records. It's a story as old as homes -- well, at least as old as websites that display home records and listings. Your home's records online are populated from the public records about your home, which are either so old they don't include the upgrades and additions that have been done over time, or they're just flat out wrong for a number of reasons. If you Google your address, or search for it on Trulia, and find that your home's description is riddled with errors, contact us or your County public record agency to correct them; this is particularly important if you're planning to sell your home anytime soon.
#6. To See Your Home's Google Street Views. When you're selling your home, it's especially critical to see everything that prospective home buyers will see. That means checking out how your home's listing looks on all the online real estate sites (yes, even on Trulia), checking out the flier - even stopping by to check out any staging your broker or agent did if you've already moved out. One thing even most savvy sellers don't check out is the way Google Maps Street Views depicts your home. If you're unfamiliar, Google actually hitches up cameras to cars and sends them up and down public streets worldwide, so that Google Maps users can go from an overhead view of a street via satellite to seeing panoramic pics from the street from curb level with one click. Sometimes, the street views can be outdated. If you're about to sell your home, and you notice that the street view is outdated, mention it to your agent, and ask them to make a note of that fact in the listing information.