It is always frustrating to find a home online, then get there to find that it isn’t at all what you expected. Worse, it isn’t even on the market because it was sold 3 years ago. The market is like the ocean, tides come and go, you want to ride the wave that gets you home.
- Use a reliable source. There are lots of options, Zillow is #1, Trulia #2, and Realtor.com #3. I can also set up an auto update where you can search on your own, save, and get auto updates. Public sites don’t always update a listing when it has an offer, so it looks active when it is not. One buyer emailed me 6 times asking to look up properties he found on a site, none of them were available. They all had offers. We were both frustrated.
- Use Google maps. A 1” square photo can’t tell you everything you need to know. Drill down on the maps, look at the neighborhood and the back yard. You’ll see if it is flat, sloping, which direction the garage and driveway are, if it attached or detached. In case there isn’t one the map will indicate if there is a space you might put one. You’ll see how close the neighbors are and what’s in their backyard. If there is a gas station next door, or it backs up to a major highway you might want to skip that one. Is there going to be less traffic in the next 10 years? Check your commute times, directions to get to work.
- Check room sizes. I see hundreds of properties and still can’t tell from the outside how big it is inside. Check room sizes, foundation, and total square footage. If the kitchen says 8x15, it is a galley kitchen, if a bedroom is 7x8, it is very small and you can put a teeny tiny bed in it and nothing else. That California king bed is not going to fit in an 11’ x 12’ bedroom. If the whole space is under 1000 finished square feet, and the listing says 4 bedrooms, they have got to be small. Some of the online sites show total square feet of the home including unfinished basements. Zillow could say that it has 3000 square feet, but MLS lists only finished square feet. Finished is with flooring, insulated walls, ceiling, heating, etc. Painted basement block is not finished square feet. Porches, decks, workshops, laundry rooms are not usually counted as finished.
- Check Trulia/Zillow for schools, amenities, crime stats / transportation / demographics. A real estate license doesn’t allow us to tell you if it is a ‘good neighborhood,’ or who the neighbors are. There are online tools to research crime rates, schools, demographics.
- Don’t fall in love with the photos. As much as I hate to admit it, some agents are horrible photographers and can’t even focus a cell phone. Some pros use a super wide angle lens that makes a closet look like a ballroom. I dragged a client to see a property based on a living room photo that looked like a massive 25 feet swath of hardwood flooring. It was not the house in the photo at all, and it was disappointing. Check the photo against room sizes to see if they stack up. Sometimes a house will look a lot better in photos, but the opposite is also true. I’ve almost bypassed a couple of great houses because the agent took lousy photos.
These tips you save you lots of wheel spinning if you just take a few minutes to look at a few details online before you jump in the car.