So, you’re ready to buy a home? Great! But where do you start? Chances are, online.
The 2020 National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers reported the share of home buyers who used the internet to search for a home rose to an all-time high of 97%. Additionally, 43% of recent buyers their home search online, while only 18% contacted a real estate agent first.
Most home-buying sites provide the same standard information—property profiles, loan calculators, or a blog with helpful articles for homeowners or current industry news—but each website is slightly different, too, so you should scope out a few options during your search to see which works best for you.
Here’s a helpful overview of some of the top home shopping websites and apps to help you get started:
Launched in 2006, Zillow is one of the leading real estate marketplaces on the web and offers access to Zillow Home Loans, an affiliate lender, and Zillow Homes, Inc., their own licensed brokerage, to streamline consumer transactions.
Here are some top features of the Zillow website and smartphone app:
- Ability to conduct home-buying searches via specific categories like foreclosures, for sale by owner, open houses, new construction, and properties coming soon
- A handy tool on each listing that calculates travel time to your work location
- Five real estate loan calculators for mortgages, refinancing, affordability, amortization, and debt-to-income ratios
- Access to “For Sale by Owner” listings as well as brokerage listings
Be wary of Zillow’s “Zestimates” tool as varying reports note it’s not always accurate.
Launched in 1996, Realtor.com is affiliated with the National Association of Realtors. Their “My Home” account allows you to track your real estate investment by recording your home’s value over time. You can also research and manage home improvements you’re interested in making and scout similar properties in your neighborhood, so when it comes time to sell (and buy) you have documentation on your home’s potential value and what you want in your next house ready to go. One downside to Realtor.com is that you can’t list list your own property on the site—you have to go through an agent.
Other helpful Realtor.com features include:
- Access to a First-Time Home Buyer Resource Center
- Access to 99% of all MLS-listed properties listed in its database
- Ability to search by school district
- Resources for veterans and military families
- Ability to map noise, flood, and crime rates as well as nearby schools, available transit, and access to shopping and restaurants for each listing
Developed in 1989, Homes.com offers similar information to its competitors but lacks some of the bells and whistles, including access to multiple real estate calculators and more detailed property and neighborhood information. However, if you want a quick, streamlined search, this might be the website for you, as it offers the following:
- Educational “how to” guides for buying, selling, renting, financing, and building
- Distinguishment as one of the oldest and most reliable home listing resources
- Access to a mortgage calculator
- A review of APRs, payment options, and other fees from home loan companies based on each listing’s price
- Resources for veterans and military families
Redfin hasn’t grown to the level of its competitors, as it doesn’t feature home listings in smaller cities or towns, which has raised some eyebrows from fair housing market representatives. However, if you’re looking for property in and around a state’s major metropolitan hubs, Redfin offers some handy options to make your home search easier. The site provides extensive home preview options like video walkthroughs, 3-D home views, an interactive street view, and more in-depth property attributes.
Additional features include:
- Listings that offer potential homeowner’s insurance fees, a loan interest calculator specific to the property, and potential mortgage rates by lending institution
- Detailed property information such as room dimensions, equipment included in a sale, roof material, and types of countertops and flooring
Bells and whistles aside, however, Redfin’s agent fee structure is complicated, and some consumers report low-quality customer service, so don’t limit your home search to a single source.
Once you’ve conducted that initial home search and found some properties you like, make sure you get pre-qualified for a home loan to speed the search and buying process. You can easily start your mortgage application process with OVM Financial’s easy QuickStart application.
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