When a family comes to me in search of a home, 99% have searched online before they contact me. Some have simply done a general search and others have done detailed research about what is available.
While there is a lot of good that has come out of online home searching websites, there are downsides as well.
In my twenty plus years of experience, here is what I have noticed about the good and the bad and the ugly of online house hunting:
- Since location is key for home buyers, the map function of online house searches enables you to see exactly where a home is located. That way you can see how long your commute would be, including traffic. It also lets you know what neighborhood the home is in which can be helpful if you are already familiar with the area.
- You can save time by only looking at homes that meet your search criteria. Because of the advanced search function, you are able to narrow down your search to only see what houses have three bedrooms or only the ones that have a pool. This function prevents you from wasting time on houses that do not meet your family’s needs.
- You can get a general idea of pricing for what you are looking for since the asking prices are displayed on the site. Keep in mind that the asking prices are not set in stone. Right now in our area, houses sometimes sell for more than the asking price.
- The information on popular real estate websites may not be as accurate or reliable as the official MLS listing. A dependable realtor will have the most accurate information in person and on the official MLS listings on her website. A realtor sometimes has information for houses that are new on the market before popular websites. This is important for home buyers when the market is moving as quickly as it is now! Some websites post sales history that is confusing and in many cases buyers assume that the house could be bought at a lower price. Until you get enough information, it is hard to make a decision.
- The inaccuracy of online home searching sites is especially true of estimated home value. There is a computer formula used to calculate this estimated home value. But a computer cannot take the place of an experienced realtor when it comes to knowing the value of a particular property. The sites often do not take into consideration important factors such as updates, location within a community, and subjective items such as a flat lot.
- A website can show you what houses are on the market, but cannot help you with the process of buying a home. There is so much more to house hunting than finding the house. A good realtor can help you think through what kind of house may be best for you. She has experience negotiating a home’s price so you get the best value. She guides you through every little detail and piece of paperwork that comes along.
- Pictures do not do some houses justice. Flipping through pictures one room at a time is like trying to see a whole jigsaw puzzle picture by examining one piece at a time without ever putting it together. Even if the pictures of individual rooms may not thrill your soul, you may feel differently once you see the whole house together.
- Videos and virtual tours may do a better job of showing what the house looks like as a whole, but there will still not be the same feel as being there in person. Sometimes the photos are not proportional so you cannot figure out how big a room or yard really is until you see it in person.
- Sometimes the pictures used online are outdated from a previous time the house was listed for sale. Or the photos are from when the house was last staged and now in reality it is empty and looks completely different.
- Other times it’s hard to get past the current owner’s decorating style (painted stripes? floral wallpaper?). If your first reaction to a picture is that the house is ugly, you may change your mind when you are there in person seeing the home as a whole and feeling what it would look like to have your sense of style in the house to make it shine.