Resources for the Online House Hunt
The online world has made home buying easier and more convenient for military families ready to PCS. In fact, more than 85 percent of homebuyers start their house hunt online first, and 24 percent of buyers purchase homes they saw online without the help of a real estate agent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Armed with this knowledge you can take the part of the stress out of a PCS buy shopping for homes in your pjs.
Here's a list of Bankrate.com's online resources to help you find a new house in your new city:
Listings source: Brokers, agents and Google Web crawls; recently more than 4.8 million housing listings available; update frequency varies by source and posting method.
Pros: Includes for-sale-by-owner listings, foreclosures, rental properties; can search by school district name; type in keyword for more specific searches; can sort price in one of a dozen ways (including square footage and year built); zoomable Google map at right pinpoints where each listing is, by number; listings free to brokers and agents.
Cons: Once a listing is clicked, you're redirected to the listing company's Web site with its own interface; some duplicate listings (e.g., same house for sale by owner and by a real estate agency, and it's not clear which listing is current; or a broker and agent can each post the same listing and it appears twice); listing removal requests by brokers/agents can take up to two weeks.
Listings source: On average, more than 4 million listings from nearly 900 MLS operations, updated as often as every 15 minutes (for more than 1.5 million listings currently) and member agents/brokers can manually submit changes or add more details.
Pros: Summaries of housing inventory, schools and other info about local neighborhoods, either by searching for one or exploring sample lists (e.g., celebrity neighborhoods, hip neighborhoods); flags show which listings are new that day or that week; video home tours on some listings.
Cons: Have to click twice to get from submitting search parameters to seeing full results (first click brings you to featured home listings only); listings gathered from nonmember agents are limited to one photo.
Coolest features: Downloadable tools allow you to display a continually updated slide show of available listings in an area right to your desktop; find out how many listings match your search as you're entering your criteria, not just after you click the search button.
Listings source: Brokers, agents, Web vendors and MLS; an average of roughly 2 million listings at any given time; updated daily based on feeds from brokers and agents.
Pros: Site loads quickly; user-friendly interface; search results include foreclosures; local real estate guides with detailed market trends, schools overview and community information.
Cons: No for-sale-by-owner listings; may not include all MLS systems.
Coolest features: By signing up for an account, you can save a list of homes interested in, write and store notes on your favorite homes, and subscribe to e-mail alerts to learn of new listings matching your criteria. Use heat maps to learn the current number of listings, average price and higher/lower home price areas within a state or area of state. Trulia Voices section allows users to post questions for buyers, brokers, sellers and locals to answer.
Listings source: Brokerages, real estate agents and homeowners; more than 1 million current listings; providers with automated feeds have updates pushed to Zillow.com nightly (for listings posting manually, update time depends on the source).
Pros: Pleasant user interface; comprehensive listing information posted, but you can choose to view it on the listing broker's site instead; registered users can keep track of favorite homes and contributions made to the Zillow community; page views chart at the bottom of each listing shows how many times it has been viewed compared to how many listings have been viewed this month and total in the same ZIP code, city, county and state; Zestimate (Zillow's home value estimate) available on many listings); compare, sort and contrast home through comps; discussions section allows you to connect with other Zillow users.
Cons: No contact information given for someone needing to contact the company privately -- feedback button brings you to a "Suggestions" thread in discussions (posted user problems tend to be complaints about incorrect listings information and how home values were determined).
Coolest features: Heat maps display at a town or broader level where the most and least expensive homes tend to be; Make Me Move searches, which turn up homes that aren't actually on the market whose owners have named a price they would consider moving for; Home Q&A feature allows you to post a question about an individual home for agents, homeowners, neighbors or anyone to answer (e.g., How's the commute downtown from here? Is there a park nearby to walk the dog?).
Coverage: 14 markets, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boise, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Orange County, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego and Silicon Valley (new market suggestions accepted).
Listings source: Local MLS offices, brokers and builders; an estimated 900,000 current listings; updated hourly (with the most recent update time listed at the top of the page).
Pros: Very comprehensive listings inventory; ability to select properties from larger list to see in detail later; six options for sorting results; three search result view options: list view, map view and photo view; keyword search allows you to enter unwanted keywords in listings, too (e.g., "no pool").
Cons: For those who prefer viewing listings all in the same format, clicking on a property for more details takes you to the sponsoring broker's site; new construction and for-sale-by-owner searches must be done separately.
Coolest features: Sliders at left of search results page allow for quick adjustments on search price, number of bedrooms or baths, and square feet; registered users can highlight preferred properties to compare, save notes on properties and save a search for later, all accessible from any computer.
Coverage: Six regions (Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles/Orange County, Calif., San Diego, Seattle, Washington, D.C.), with Chicago coming soon.
Listings source: 16 MLSs, updated as quickly as every 15 minutes for 10 of those and up to every several hours for others.
Pros: No need to find a buyer's agent to be shown properties (Redfin agents, who work on salary rather than commission, can arrange tours, draft offers online and handle negotiations); "Popular searches" list in case you need ideas for what to search for; view listing summary at right as you scroll down search results list; comprehensive listings include details such as lot outlines, county tax records, school information and Zillow.com market value estimates; comparative market analysis data; sign up for e-mail newsletter with last week's sales, info on price reductions, upcoming open houses, neighborhood indicators and news, previews of upcoming listings, and home shopping tips.
Cons: Must pay Redfin agent for home tours greater than two hours or for second tours; limit of 10 offers every six months; no guarantee that an agent working on salary only will provide better service than one working on commission.
Coolest features: Customers of this online brokerage have two-thirds of the buyer's agent commission price refunded at closing; Listing details include zoomable overhead view photos for a look at the neighborhood.
Once you've found the house of your dreams it may benefit you to actually take a look at the property in person. Don't forget that Uncle Sam will reimburse you for the house-hunting part of your trip.