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Planning to buy a home?
It’s a long process, especially if you’re holding out for the perfect house. Before you start visiting homes, take a look online. You might be surprised at what you can find with a simple search on one of the best real estate websites.
When I bought a home several years ago, I used the internet to get a general idea of what was available — but I still needed a real estate agent to help me figure stuff out.
Today, you can do most of the legwork without a real estate agent. The right agent can help as you find a home and go through the process, but today’s real estate websites offer a ton of useful information to get you started. Look online and then contact an agent for best results.
If you hope to make a home purchase soon, here are some of the best real estate websites to power your search.
Zillow is the OG of real estate websites. You can see information about the home and compare the asking price to Zillow’s estimate. The site also offers a price and tax history of the home, pulled from public records.
Filter your search by foreclosure, new construction, for sale by owner, and other characteristics that help you narrow your results. View a neighborhood map of the home, see a forecast for the real estate market (are home values expected to go up?), and look at what similar homes have sold for recently.
Other interesting features include integration with WalkScore and GreatSchools, which can give you an idea of how local schools perform and your walking access to amenities. You can also see an estimate of your mortgage payment for each home and an affordability calculator that takes into account your income and monthly debt obligations to help you estimate how much house you can afford.
Some of the data on Zillow might be a little outdated, but you can get a general idea of the trends in a market.
Trulia offers the basics that you expect from a real estate website, including property size, cost, and mortgage payment estimates. However, their other tools can be valuable if you’re looking for an idea of how a home or location will fit your lifestyle.
Trulia offers estimated commute times as well as information about what’s nearby, including specific restaurants and stores. You can get an idea of the types of businesses you can frequent, and see if it makes sense to live in the area based on commute times. School ratings and the local crime rate are also listed.
It’s easy to compare the home to similar properties. View a map of the location and see other homes in the area along with their prices. Trulia offers data about whether the home’s price is in line with others nearby, and information about the home’s price history.
Filters allow you to search for the safest neighborhoods, specific amenities (like hardwood flooring), and fixer-uppers.
HomeFinder makes it easy to find all the pertinent public information about the properties you’re researching.
This website offers details such as the most recently assessed taxable value and the amount of tax paid on the property, in addition to basic info about bedrooms, bathrooms, and square feet. There’s even a utility estimate to help you plan monthly costs for your home.
HomeFinder is simple to use, and listings include a street view and a location map. It’s easy to search by ZIP code and use filters to find something in your price range.
Look at information about the neighborhood, including population, median household income, and how many local homes are rented. Receive a monthly payment estimate to get an idea of affordability.
HomeFinder also includes the ability to search for foreclosures, and even includes listings that are in pre-foreclosure. This means that the homeowner is delinquent, even though the property isn’t in foreclosure yet. As a result, you might not see a sale price.
However, you can use the information about the original loan amount and the fact that the homeowner is having trouble to sniff out deals on pre-foreclosure properties. If you’re interested in foreclosures and pre-foreclosures, you are sent to a third-party site.
4. Local Multiple Listing Service
The most accurate, up-to-date information available on your real estate market will come through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). This is information that licensed real estate professionals and brokers have access to.
While it’s possible to access the MLS as a member of the general public, the information you receive can be somewhat watered down. You can access some information through third-party websites like MLS.com, which pulls data from MLS listings and includes details about homes and the market.
If you want access to the true MLS, you can usually get it through a real estate agent or broker. They can print the information about a home, or set up email alerts for you based on specific search criteria.
It’s also worth noting that many of the best real estate websites pull information from the local MLS to provide you with data that can help you make a decision.
Get an overview of a property with the help of Homes.com. This site pulls from MLS and real estate websites to aggregate information about what’s for sale in your area.
When looking at a property listing, you can view the ratings of local schools and estimates on monthly property taxes, insurance, and mortgage payments. However, some of this information is user-submitted rather than pulled from public records, making it less reliable.
Homes.com also provides the value history for the home and compares it to the history of other homes in the same ZIP code and city. This provides a good idea of where the home stands and lets you gauge trends in the area.
There are plenty of pictures and maps of the area so you can get a feel for the home and the neighborhood.
Redfin is a little different from the other sites on this list — instead of just offering listings, it’s actually a real estate brokerage. Though Redfin isn’t available in every area, there is plenty of data on the homes that are listed.
View public information, including recent property tax costs. While many of the other best real estate websites only offer tax information from 2015, Redfin includes 2016 property tax information. You can see pricing history and compare the asking price to Redfin’s estimate of value.
Redfin also features 3D tours of homes, street views, and neighborhood characteristics, including walkability and access to public transit. Depending on the locality, Redfin offers a bikability score. You can also see ratings for nearby schools.
Like Redfin, ZipRealty offers in-person professional services, so it’s not available in all areas. You’ll get basic information about interior and exterior features on this real estate website. It’s also possible to see estimated payments and get an idea of extra costs, like HOA fees.
One of the coolest features offered by ZipRealty is an interactive price trends graph. You can compare median price per square foot, list price, and price to sale ratio. It’s a way to get a feel for the market and the specifics of the house.
If you want a list of bank-owned properties going up for auction, Auction.com is the place to go. You get all the basic info, plus you can see the starting bid for the home, your bid deposit, and the date it goes up for sale.
Auction.com also includes information about whether you can buy using a mortgage or if cash is required. You can also see if a buyer premium is involved and view the previous value of the home.
The information about neighborhoods, schools, and property taxes is pretty sparse, but the things you need to know about participating in the auction are included. You can see the purchase agreement, title information, and more on the listed properties.
RealtyTrac is another website that specializes in foreclosures. You can get access to information about nearby schools, the local market, and see the foreclosure timeline. You can even see risk factors such as the crime rate, nearby sex offenders, former drug labs, and radon warnings.
One of the downsides to RealtyTrac is that you can’t see the full information about a foreclosure listing, including the opening bid, without signing up and paying a fee. There is a free trial, but you still need to sign up for full access to the data.
10. Fannie and Freddie
If you’re interested in seeing what’s available from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, visit their foreclosure websites. HomePath offers information about properties owned by Fannie Mae, and HomeSteps does the same for Freddie Mac.
Both of these websites help you find a home that has been in foreclosure, and each company offers incentives. Buy with as little as three percent down with a HomePath mortgage from Fannie Mae. Freddie Mac offers incentives for first-time homebuyers and a home warranty allocation.
HomeSales.gov provides information about homes owned by government agencies. There isn’t a lot of specific information about properties, but you can use an interactive map to click on a state and then select cities to view. See information on special financing, depending on the agency that owns the loan.
These real estate websites can be great tools in your home search, but remember that the estimates you see are just that — estimates. It’s nice to see rough calculations of your mortgage payments, property taxes, and monthly costs, but make sure you do the math and conduct your own research before signing on the dotted line.
Are you a first-time homebuyer? See what one writer learned after buying her first house.
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