What should you really know about browsing for homes online?

  • by Snohomish County-Camano Association of REALTORS®
  • Dec 13, 2022, 11:36 AM

Oh, let’s just admit it, shall we? Browsing for homes online is fun and exciting! However, it is important to take everything with a grain of salt. Browser beware, though: those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.

That charming old home? 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. 

You keep current. Your property site should too.
You would not read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest gossip, right? So, you should not browse property sites which 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 brokers post listings for sale. This means realtor.com®’s listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. Your REALTOR® might have other suggestions of sites and apps which use the MLS as well.

The best properties are not always the best looking.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what they do not say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So, while it is natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features: 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 broker to help you interpret what you find. The best brokers have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.

Treat your REALTOR® like your bestie.
At the end of the day, property sites are kind of like “Cliffs Notes” for a neighborhood: they show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All this data will give you a working knowledge, but it will not be exhaustive.

To assess all this information and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest fitness facility is, talk to your REALTOR®.

“Partnering with a REALTOR® delivers the peace of mind which comes from working with a real person, a real advocate, and a real and trusted professional who is committed to their clients’ futures and neighborhoods just as much as they are,” said Ellen Bohn, President of Snohomish County-Camano Association of REALTORS®.

A real estate broker who can go beyond 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: GreatSchools.org, 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.orgLeapfrogGroup.org, and U.S. News and World Report rankings

Just remember, you are probably not going to find the “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes which are available and a general idea of what else is out there. Once you have spent time online, you will be ready to share what you have learned with your REALTOR®.

For more information about buying or selling a home, be sure to work with a REALTOR®, a member of the National Association of REALTORS®. Snohomish County-Camano Association of REALTORS® is the voice for real estate in Snohomish County. If you have questions for The Expert about real estate email us at info@sccar.org, or visit www.sccar.org.