Remember the olden days when people used to drive around neighborhoods with their real estate agent in tow looking at properties? So 1992. These days, the only real way to search for homes (as with everything else in life) is online. And real estate blogs and search engines are making it easier than ever. Following is a round-up of the most popular local sources for tracking down properties in the Charlottesville area.
The MLS (multiple listing service) arm of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, mycaar.com is regarded as the most mainstream search vehicle for Charlottesvillians.
Advantage: If the property is listed by a CAAR member—that is, 95 percent of the agents in town—it’ll show up here first. Potential home buyers are free to peruse listings anonymously, and search criteria are detailed to the point of superfluity—you can search for homes that feature flourishes like wainscoting and wet bars as by price and square footage.
Disadvantage: The listing agent wants your business, so they tend to leave out key details of a property in the hope you’re compelled to call for more information. For instance, a listing on mycaar.com won’t tell you if a property is in foreclosure, or how long the current occupant has lived there. For that, you have to deal directly with the agent.
The search feature of local real estate blogger Jim Duncan’s popular blog relies on data partially provided by Charlottesville MLS.
Advantages: The search criteria here are a little more helpful and creative than what’s readily available on mainstream search engines and other agents’ sites—i.e. the site provides information that actually matters to savvy buyers. For example, you can search by price drops, the number of days a property has been listed, and foreclosures. There’s even a green component—you can search for properties based on their “walk score,” that is, how easy it is to get to and from without a car. You can also choose to save searches and have them emailed directly to you, and Duncan promises to “never spam you.”
Disadvantages: Not many, though searching for price drops—which requires you to enter a specific percentage decrease within a designated timeframe—can be tricky. Try searching for a decrease of at least five percent, and know that Duncan is working to improve this part of his search engine.
While not a search engine per se, the so-called Bubble Blog frequently highlights specific MLS listings and gives the insider drop on each.
Advantage: The blog is written anonymously, so expect refreshingly non-chirpy, non-glossed over and oftentimes ranty estimations of properties in question. For instance, the writers come right out and say things like renting rather than owning may be preferable in a market like Charlottesville and “Homeownership should not be associated with the qualities and achievements that comprise ‘The American Dream.’” You won’t find that kind of gimlet-eyed commentary on other real estate sites.
Disadvantage: They only feature listings they want to write about, and the tone is geared more towards those versed in industry vernacular—“move up buyers,” etc. Also, expect a lot of bold text, you know, in case you don’t get it.
Advantage: A repository for “for sale by owner” properties, Craigslist appeals to buyers who prefer not to work with agents.
Disadvantages: As with all things Craigslist-related, expect to wade through a lot of garbage before finding a gem. And even if you do find a “gem,” the information could be misleading—or the seller a crackpot.
Many real estate agents have their own sites and blogs equipped with MLS search capabilities.
Advantages: Perusing an agent’s blog or website is the quickest way to determine if this is a person you can actually work with. For instance, Pam Dent (jumpintogreenerpastures.com) specializes in horse properties, Roger Voisinet (cvilleproperties.com) frequently posts about green issues. And the agent can usually set you up to have MLS listings that fit your criteria emailed directly to you.
Disadvantages: In order to receive customized listings, you must give the agent your contact info.