A large majority of home buyers begin use the internet to search for a house long before they even speak with a real estate agent. Starting your house-hunting adventure online is a great way to get started, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to the World Wide Web when looking for a new home. Think of this initial online search as a way to educate yourself about your needs and wants before you really get into your search. Here are a few do’s and don’ts you should consider before conducting your online home search.

Do be sure to search a reputable site. You want to make sure the website you’re browsing keeps its listings and search results up to date. You don’t want to waste your time by falling in love with a listing that’s already off the market. For the most reliable information, we recommend using Realtor.com, which pulls information from MLS regional databases every 15 minutes.

Don’t rely too much on the photos. Many real estate agents hire professional photographers to shoot photos of their listings in order to present them in their best light. Those photos are meant to highlight the house’s very best features. What they won’t show are repairs that need to be made, or what it looks like when it’s not illuminated by the best possible lighting. On the other hand, a listing’s pictures might not be the best (perhaps the owner and agent weren’t willing to pay for professional photos), but it could be a hidden gem in person.

Do realize your real estate agent is a wealth of information. Yes, real estate websites show a lot of information, but that info is really just a snapshot of the house and its neighborhood. You’ll be able to see active and sold listings, home prices, sales history, and other relevant information. But it won’t take into consideration specifics about the home and the surrounding area. They also might be privy to other details about the sale of the home that you wouldn’t see online and wouldn’t get from the seller’s agent if you decided to buy on your own.

Don’t even think about buying sight unseen. Unless the circumstances are dire, you should never buy a house without seeing it in person first. Looking at pictures and information online, or even getting the info from an agent over the phone or email, is never a good substitute for seeing the house in person. You need to be able to get a feel for the house, examine all its faults and features, and talk to the owners and/or neighbors before you move forward with a purchase. Buying a home without really getting to know it in person is a lot like marrying someone you met on a dating website without meeting them face to face first.

Do use your online search as a jumping off point. Searching for a house online is the perfect way to get an idea of what’s out there and narrow down what you do and don’t like. It’s also a great tool for helping you and your agent get on the same page. Send them some examples of listings you like along with your list of needs, likes, and dislikes, and they’ll have a much easier time helping you find a group of homes to check out in person.

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