4 Resources for the Online House Hunt

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(Stock image)
(Stock image)

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.

What are the best sites to use for home buying in your new city? Here’s a handy list

Realtor.com

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.

Trulia.com

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.

Zillow.com

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?).

Redfin.com

Coverage: Many regions nationwide.

Listings source: MLS, 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.

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