House browsing: internet tools for buyers and sellers

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House browsing: internet tools for buyers and sellers

According to the National Association of REALTOR®’s 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, potential buyers turn to the internet when looking to purchase a home. In fact, the study shows that 45 percent of potential buyers attended open houses and used a mobile app, while 42 percent used mobile search engines to find property. Although the data revealed that buyers used a variety of resources to search for a home, overwhelmingly, 92 percent used the Internet to find the home they eventually purchased. When buyers were specifically asked where they first learned about the home they purchased, 43 percent stated the Internet. If you are in the market for a new home or selling an existing one, learning about some of these Internet tools could save you time and money.

Online Tools for Purchasing and Selling a Home

In the past decade, the Internet has changed the way buyers look for property, and how sellers are marketing their homes. With Internet websites like Zillow, Realtor.com and Trulia, buyers quickly can narrow their search and get a general idea of what they actually can afford. Anne Burroughs, REALTOR® at Montague, Miller & Co. (www.anneburroughs.com), says that potential buyers should use the information from these sites with caution because sometimes the information is not always accurate. However, when it comes to Realtor.com there is an exception. According to Burroughs, Realtor.com gets its data directly from the MLS system (in other words, REALTORS® themselves) and the information is always correct. She goes on to say that the other sites generally pull their data from a variety of public sources, and in many instances the homes that are advertised for sale actually are either sold or up for auction as part of a foreclosure.

Jim Bonner, Associate Broker at Roy Wheeler Realty Co. (www.jimbonner.com), says that with so many new innovations in the industry to aid buyers, sellers and brokers, anyone with a cell phone, laptop, Ipad or personal computer can access resources to help them buy or sell a home. According to Bonner, proprietary websites and search engines allows consumers to see every aspect of a property both inside and outside. And in many instances, drone photos have been used to showcase property adding an interesting perspective to house hunting.  In addition, electronic signatures are made easy for routing contracts to attorneys, banks, brokers, buyers and sellers, Bonner adds.

With the use of Internet tools for house browsing, some buyers and sellers consider open houses obsolete because houses can be viewed 24/7 providing a buyer with information such as plats, covenants, and restrictions to bolster their investigations. These real estate online tools can even connect REALTORS® to foreign clients interested in the American market. “Most recently, we entertained international clients after we provided a dedicated and interactive proprietary website we crafted about one certain property, which incorporated Google Earth to provide satellite and aerial inspection,” says Bonner.

If you are looking to build a new home, Burroughs suggests visiting the builders’ website. There you will find comprehensive information that includes floor plans and a variety of elevations. Burroughs like to send clients to sites like Houseplans.com because they offer floor plans that help potential buyers visualize and come up with ideas of what they want for their custom built home. Furthermore, buyers are able to educate themselves about green features by visiting sites like LEAP or EnergyStar.

Online mortgage calculators are another useful Internet tool that helps buyers’ establish a budget during the house hunting process. Although most buyers have an idea of how much they can afford to pay for a mortgage each month, the challenge comes when figuring out how much house they can actually afford. Incorporating the use of an online mortgage calculator can help them translate the monthly payments, plus the down payment, into a reasonable budget when house hunting, says Burroughs.

When it comes to sellers, online tools are great for helping them prepare their house for the market, according to Burroughs. For example, if a seller wants to do some fixing up, soliciting the help of websites like Houzz.com for inspiration for projects like the right color to repaint a room or landscaping ideas can save you a lot of time and effort. Beyond that, Burroughs finds that online tools are not as necessary for the sellers.

How REALTORS® Use Online Tools to Help Clients Buy and Sell Homes

When Burroughs takes on a new buyer, she sets up a custom website through Client Connect. Client Connect allows her to search for all homes that fit within the parameters populated to the site, giving her the ability to classify those listings into three categories: favorites, possible and rejected. “It notifies me when they have completed the sort, or when new homes come up for sale that fit those criteria,” she says. “This site is password protected and just for them and me, so it’s a great place to see all the possibilities at once without having to redo the search every time.”

Zillow is another real estate app Burroughs like to use in the earlier stages of the house hunting process. For example, the app can provide information such as how much a house recently sold for. This can be extremely beneficial for buyers shopping within a specific budget or for a particular type of house. Furthermore, Burroughs considers this app her client’s reality check because she can instantly pull up public records for the home, often revealing that it’s not within their set budget. This essentially saves the buyer “a lot of headaches and heartaches.” For sellers, she uses a portal like Postlets, which allows her to enter a listing and have it appear on dozens of websites instantly.

In the past decade, online real estate services have changed the way buyers look for homes, and how sellers market their properties. Today, there is an abundance of online resources to help narrow your search for finding and purchasing a home, or quickly getting your home virtually uploaded to the Internet, making the digital house browsing experience more convenient.

By Janet Thomson

Janet Thomson is a freelance writer, copywriter and military wife residing in Charlottesville.