How to Shop Online for a Home

by James Florence

When it comes to shopping online for a home, there are some common pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Photo: American Ratings Corporation (2017)

If you’re like most home buyers nowadays, you probably started your search online, but what you found may have raised more questions than answers. This is because consumer-oriented portals (i.e. real estate websites like Trulia and Zillow) operate in very different ways and, consequently, can produce very different results. By gaining an understanding of how listings are published online, you’ll be able to avoid common pitfalls and shop for properties with greater accuracy and efficiency.

Typically, a seller’s agent starts the home marketing process by creating a listing that includes key details and selling points, as well as photos. This information is usually entered into the local multiple listing service, commonly known as MLS. All agents within that MLS share access to the most current details of every listing and may (depending on certain rules) republish the listing on their own websites.

Because seller’s agents want their properties to be seen by as many people as possible, they often use syndication services to republish listings on various consumer portals. Additionally, some consumer sites sell listing information to other sites (a process called resyndication). However, there’s one problem with this process: the more a home listing gets circulated, the further it moves from its original source, which reduces the likelihood of the listing being accurate and up-to-date. As a result, buyers looking at homes via online portals—especially those more focused on content than accuracy—often find listings with outdated information or that are no longer for sale.

To avoid these pitfalls, consider working directly with a buyer’s agent, who has real-time access to the most complete inventory of homes for sale, along with timely details on prices, market statuses and comparable sales. Many buyer’s agents can also give their clients access to proprietary tools that provide emailed updates on qualified properties.