Three Things to Keep in Mind when Looking at Online Listings

Note: This is a chapter in my new ebook called The Ultimate Guide to Buying (and then Selling) Your First Home.  I will post a chapter a week.  If you like what you read, you can pick up a copy here for the price of a candy bar!   Buy a candy bar or be a real estate guru!   This chapter is about mortgages and first time home buyers.   This one is about online listings and continues the story from the previous chapter found here.  In the chapter below, you will learn about some tidbits of advice of what to look for in online listings. 

After a bit, I was plugged into a large screen projector with my laptop and ready to start the search with Steve and Sally.   I could sense their excitement.  They said they had been casually looking at online listings for about three months now.  It felt different now that they were in position to purchase a home.    I told them this, to me, is one of the most exciting and fun parts of looking for your first home is browsing the various online listings on sites like Zillow, Trulia, and any of the other portals now available.   Nothing will get your juices flowing than finding a home online that checks off all the things on your list of a perfect home.   With over ninety percent of people starting their home search when buying their first home, real estate agents and sellers have mastered the art of the perfect online post.   However, I told the young couple that there are some things to consider when shopping homes online.  Here are three of them.

1. Data will be out of date.   One of the most disappointing things I must do as a real estate agent is to tell a client that the perfect home they saw online has been sold.   The data on the portal is usually out of date.   Why does this happen today when everything else online is so automatic?  The reasons tie back to how the data is inputted originally and how it is shared on the Internet.   Most real estate agents are members of a local association.  These associations contract with a service provider to be the data providers for listings.   This data is shared with other parties, who pay a subscription fee to gain access to the data (called syndication).  Data transfers between the association service providers and the subscribers can have a lag time of 2 to 24 hours depending on the syndication agreements.   In other words, you might find a great house on Zillow that shows it is still available. However, Zillow might not have received the most current data yet from the associations.  How do you get around this technical glitch?  You need to request that your agents set up a custom portal for you that ties directly into the association data in real time.   Through this portal, you can check on the property to get the current status. I saw Sally make note of this on her notepad.  I told her she was still welcome to use the more user-friendly portals and contact me about the latest status on the property.  I just didn’t want them to get too excited about a property until we know for sure it is still available. 

2. Photos show the good side – Most people fall in love with homes through the pictures.   If a picture shows a stellar place online then it looks that way in reality, right?   Not necessarily.   Real estate agents have caught on very quickly that pictures really do speak a thousand words when it comes to property listings.  Many of the agents will employ photograph tricks, like tricky lighting, wide angle lens, tripods for high angle shots, to make the home look spectacular.  Most of the time, the pictures look a lot better than you will see in person.    Also, often a home situation has changed such as the seller has moved out of the home, so it is vacant.  Vacant homes do not look as appealing in real life as the pictures with a staged room arrangement.   It is always best to set your expectations when it comes to looking at photos online.  Often, these pictures speak a different truth than the reality.   Steve nodded, and he said he remembered a friend telling him how much better his house looked online than it did in realty.  His friend found it funny, but Steve said he felt it was dishonest.  I told Steve that this might be true, but they needed to realize that selling a house, like everything else, depends very heavily on how the product is presented.  Photos make a huge difference in whether a home gets appointments for showings.

3. Verify School Districts and other community information – Many buyers will also be looking closely at other data on the portal to confirm the property is right for them. For example, many buyers like to check school district ratings, as many of the portals provide this data alongside the listing data.   They will even include the individual campus for each of the age groups (Elementary, Middle School and High School). Crime rate is another favorite check for most of the buyer.    I admitted to Steve and Sally that this data can be handy when evaluating external factors about a property.  You don’t want your children to be going to a subpar school or be worried about crime.   Please remember, however, to check other sources to confirm what these portals are telling you about the area.  Many homes I have shown have been on the border of school districts/crime districts and the portal will place the property in the wrong location due to a faulty address.  Nothing is more disappointing to find a home you like, in a community you want, to only find out none of the school or crime data is correct. In fact, the information is so inconsistent on crime and school districts that many listing agents, including me, put a disclaimer in the listing about it being the responsibility of the buyer agent and the buyers to verify all data is true.   Too many people have sued about misinformation for this disclaimer not to be a part of the listing.

We ended up looking though everyone of their target areas and marked about ten properties as possibilities.   I encouraged them to continue looking and to let me know if they needed updated information.  Steve promised not to get too excited about a property based solely on the pictures and Sally had already written down all the addresses to check the school districts with other sites.    I told them that there are three other things to keep in mind that listing agents will do to lure them into seeing a property.

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