When I sit down with home shoppers to help them become home buyers, inevitably, this question comes up:
"Which home search website is the best?"
Short Answer: Your favorite one plus a great Realtor®
In case we are not on the same page here, there are tons of different home search websites out there for the public to use. Many of them are free to use and do not require any information for you to use them, though if you want access to all of the features, you will most likely be asked for your name and an email address. Because there are SO many different search sites, I am just going to categorize them into 3 major categories. There are several other ones out there are just lead capture sites cleverly disguised as search sites, but I won't be talking about those here.
The Big Guys
The big guys include names you probably already know and love or hate. Here we can find names like Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia. These companies spend a lot of money to give you the best possible search experience. They are also heavily advertised on TV and radio so chances are, they are the first place you end up going when you search "homes for sale" in Google. Also creeping into this arena is Redfin, but they are a brokerage website and will be included in the next section.
PROS – These search engines are very user friendly. Their slick interfaces and slew of extra options make these guys easy and fun to use. They are giants in the industry for a reason. You can easily sign in and use the same search on your desktop, laptop and mobile device as their data works very well between the browser and app versions of the websites.
CONS – Your agent is going to have a love/hate relationship with any of these sites. Because of the way listing data is shared (which I won't get into here) there are frequently issues with missing, old or even wrong information and often times, real estate professionals are not able to interact with these companies to get the necessary corrections made in any kind of a timely manner. Also, on several of these sites, the featured agents listed on the are not always the best fit for where you are searching, that agent has just paid to have their face in that spot. Do not get me wrong, there are great professionals in that list of names, but it is important that you dig a little deeper than just clicking on a face to pick your agent / home buying partner.
MY TAKE ON IT – Use the site you like. It is really that easy. If you have an app that you love, I recommend to my clients to keep using it. No matter how far off that Zestimate is or how old that listing is, or how wrong the information in the description is, you and I (or your agent) can always look for more complete or correct information elsewhere.
Every major real estate brand has their own search site that you can use. Windermere, Coldwell Banker, John L Scott, Remax, and so on and so on. Once again, these guys are all spending a great deal of cash to give you the best experience they can. Redfin is one of the big guys, but they are also a brokerage so it is hard to place them firmly in either of these categories so far.
PROS – Because you are probably already committed to your agent at this point, you can have a search experience that is relatively ad free. Your search may be branded with your agents information, but that just makes it easy for you to contact your agent without having to look up the number or email address. These sites usually have a direct data feed from local Multiple Listing Services so their data is refreshed often, giving you one of the most solid places to check for up to the minute information (or 15 minutes in most cases) on listings you may have found using one of the big guys. Each of these brands may also bring a special functionality or additional tools that are unique to their brand to help you with additional information.
CONS – These guys are in the business of being face to face with you and getting you out to see homes in person and help you through the home buying process. They are not spending as much on their search tech as the big guys are and that leads to search functions that are sometimes clunky or hard to use for some users. They are not bad, they just lack some of the ease of use that the big guys can give.
MY TAKE ON IT – Once again, if you have a brokerage site that you like to use, I say stick with it. If there is a certain tool you like to use that is only offered in one place, such as drive time searches (which are getting more popular) or Neighborhood News (my Windermere plug!) keep using it and let your agent know you are using it.
The Grand Pappy
That's right, the keeper of the information, the originator of all the data, your local multiple listing service or MLS. This is where the rubber meets the road and your real estate professionals are working all day every day. As soon as an agent updates data, everyone has it instantly.
PROS – This is the source. If the information here says "Sold", then it is sold. If there are mistakes in the listing information it is because they were entered that way and as soon as hey are correct, the mistakes are gone, only to be found as ghosts on the big guys search sites. You will know about new listings as soon as many agents are seeing it for the first time.
CONS – To have access to these sites, you will most likely have to go through an agent. If you picked an agent who is constantly marketing to their data base, you may be inundated with emails and even phone calls every time you click on something. Talk to your agent to find out what MLS access means you will be subjecting yourself too. The search features can require a higher degree of expertise to navigate as they are intended for advanced users.
MY TAKE ON IT – If you like and can use the MLS well, this is where you should be looking. It has the best data you can get and it often allows your agent to see where you have been looking and what you have been looking at so that they can jump on what you want. If you don't like to use the MLS, I recommend you at least punch in the listings you found on the big guys search app to check the most current information.
If you are thinking about becoming a home buyer or even just a home shopper and you would like to know how to be really good at it, I would love to sit down with you and help you to do just that.
Real Estate Broker / REALTOR®
Windermere Port Orchard
WA Lic. #116083