As early in the process as possible (and chances are you’ve started this before reading this guide), it’s time to begin thinking about what you want, what you need and where you should be located. We suggest starting with the full wish list for your ideal home and location; then we can help you carve away items and customize your criteria until your expectations are within your budget. But before we get serious about this, be sure to read our post “Determining Your Budget” so we can stick to what’s truly attainable.
Online search tools: They can be part of the hunt, but beware
Once you know what you’re looking for—with or without an agent—chances are you won’t be able to resist being involved in the search. An exclusive Buyer’s Portal is the best way to gain access to info on every available listing and this option also allows you to conduct additional follow-up searches, tweaking your criteria to see how that may increase or decrease your options. Of course, you may also choose to use some online tools, like Zillow.com or Trulia.com, in order to obtain information. But there are some important things that you should know about Trulia and Zillow before you rely on them too heavily:
→ While tools like Zillow.com and Trulia.com provide great information on sales statistics and available listings, those sources aren’t exactly up to date, nor are they entirely accurate. Let me explain.
When a property sells and the information for that transaction is recorded with local courthouses and other entities, that info does not include such things as seller’s or buyer’s concessions (credits provided one to another party as part of a deal), nor do they include the actual sales prices, due to some additional factors. The fact is, the “sales prices” you see on those online sources can be—and most often are—off by as much as tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, those sites are unable to provide key information, like how many times a property has been listed, by how many agents and (altogether) for how long. Only a Realtor is privy to this valuable information, which must be consulted in order to draft an informed offer. For these reasons, relying on sources like Zillow and Trulia may lead you to over pay for a property.
There are also other perils to avoid among Internet listing services.
When an agent lists a property for sale, the first thing they do—often before even placing a sign in the yard—is add it to the Richmond Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS is a database containing information on thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of listings, including those currently for sale, those which have sold in the past, listings that were offered but failed to sell (cancelled or expired listings) and those that are currently under contract. You won’t find all of those listings on sites like Trulia.com and Zillow.com. Furthermore, you should know that new listings arrive in MLS first and it can be days before they make their way to those other sources. By then, the very best listings often are already gone.
The best and most reliable way to conduct your search is via a Realtor and setting up a custom Buyer’s Portal.