Then and Now
Ten years ago, a search for real estate would have started in the office of a local real estate agent or by just driving around town. At the agent’s office, you would spend an afternoon flipping through pages of active property listings from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). After choosing properties of interest, you would spend many weeks touring each property until you found the right one. Finding market data to enable you to assess the asking price would take more time and a lot more driving, and you still might not be able to find all of the information you needed to get really comfortable with a fair market value.
The Business of Real Estate
Real estate is typically bought and sold either through a licensed real estate agent or directly by the owner. The vast majority is bought and sold through real estate brokers. (We use “agent” and “broker” to refer to the same professional.)
Real Estate Agents
Despite the flood of real estate information on the Internet, most properties are still sold directly through real estate agents listing properties in the local MLS or CIE. However, those property listings do not stay local anymore. By its nature, the Internet is a global marketplace and local MLS and CIE listings are normally disseminated for display on many different Web sites.
Finding Real Estate for Sale
Despite the widely available access to real estate listings, many believe that MLS databases continue to offer the most complete and accurate source of real estate information. Most MLSs now distribute content to other Web sites (primarily operated by real estate agents). An excellent starting point for MLS originated content is the national NAR Web site, realtor.com, which is also the most popular web site for searching real estate listings. Virtually all local and regional MLSs have an agreement with realtor.com to display much of their active listing inventory.
Valuing Real Estate
As we mentioned, one of the most popular real estate tools is zillow.com’s instant property valuation. Just type in an address and in and you get a property value. It even charts the price ups and downs, and shows the last date sold (including price) and the property taxes. There are other sites that provide similar tools such as housevalues.com and homegain.com.
There are many ways the Internet can help you get the scoop on a particular neighborhood. For example, census data can be found at census.gov. You can also check out the neighborhood scoop at sites like outside.in or review local blogs. A blog is a Web site where people discuss topics by posting and responding to messages. Start by looking at placeblogger.com and kcnn.org/citymediasites.com for a directory of blogs. Trulia.com has a “Heat Map” that shows how hot or cold each neighborhood is based on prices, sales, or popularity among the sites users.
Finding the Right Real Estate Agent
A recent addition to the Internet boom in real estate information is Web sites that let real estate agents market their expertise and local knowledge by displaying their professional profiles and socially networking with blogs. You can search to find an agent with a particular expertise, geographic area of specialization, or an agent offering specific services.
Maps and Other Tools
The Internet has made mapping and locating properties much easier. To get an aerial view or satellite image of a property or neighborhood, go to maps.live.com or maps.google.com or visit walkscore.com to see how walk-able a particular property is.