Admit it … browsing for homes online is a window shopper’s Shangri-La.
The elegantly decorated rooms, the sculpted gardens, the colorful front doors that just pop with those “come hither” hues. Browser beware: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.
That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street.
That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems.
That attractively priced condo? Might not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold.
So let’s practice some self-care and set our expectations appropriately.
Step One – Fill out our homebuyer’s worksheet listing what you must have, what you want and what you can do away with. The worksheet helps you understand what you’re looking for.
Step Two – Start browsing for homes. As you do, keep in mind exactly what that tool can, and can’t, do.
keep current – You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings. Get the latest listings from realtor.com, which pulls its information every 15 minutes from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means the realtor.com listings are more accurate than some others, which might update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart flutter for a house that’s already off the market.
The best properties aren’t always the best looking – A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features. Each realtor.com listing, for example, has a “property details” section that might specify important information such as the year the home was built, price per square foot and how many days the property has been on the market. Ultimately though, ask your Realtor to help you interpret what you find. The best Realtors have local knowledge of the market and might even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your Realtor will likely know why.
Treat your agent like a friend – Property sites are like Cliffs Notes for a neighborhood. They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices and sales histories. All that data will give you working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive. To assess all of this information – and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, such as how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest gym is – talk to your Realtor.
A Realtor who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset. A Realtor who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing.
Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:
School ratings – Data from GreatSchools.org and the National Center for Education Statistics, and the school district’s website
Crime rates and statistics – CrimeReports.com, NeighborhoodScout.com, SpotCrime.com, and the local police station.
Walkability and public transportation – WalkScore.com and APTA.com.
Hospital ratings – HealthInsight.org, LeapfrogGroup.org and US News and World Report rankings.
You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amusement to the home-buying process – a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there.
Stark Trumbull Area Realtors President Kyle Oberlin can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on The Repository: President’s Message: Checking out homes on your smartphone might not help