The Internet is a valuable home-buying tool. It’s a great source of information, and one of the most powerful tools that new home buyers can utilize. You can use the Internet for preliminary shopping on the Web, before you ever talk to a real estate agent.
Get an idea of what’s available in your area
One of the biggest benefits of using the Web for preliminary home shopping is to get an idea of what’s available in your area. It’s difficult to form a realistic assessment of what you want before you even know what’s there.
For example, if you want a two bedroom in a family neighborhood, you might be disappointed to find out that most of the homes in that area are larger three and four bedroom homes. Knowing what’s available in an area helps you make educated decisions about where you want to live, and whether or not it offers what you’re looking for.
Choosing the Right Neighborhood
Choosing the right neighborhood to live in is an important step in the house hunting process. It can have lasting effects on your daily life for your family, especially your kids.
Here are 5 steps you can take to help ensure you select the best neighborhood for your family.
Step 1 – make a list of what you want from your home and neighborhood and rate each one on a scale of 1-5, 5 being very important and 1 being not important at all.
- Style of home desired – single family, detached town home, or condo.
- Kids – Do you have kids or are planning to have children? This is something to consider when choosing a neighborhood. You have to consider the school system, are there other families with kids.
- Proximity to work – how far are you willing to travel to work? Consider the distance and traffic. If you’re not sure how long it may take, try doing a test run. Make sure you start from your prospective neighborhood at the time you would leave for work and time it.
- Type of community – Do you want a home town feel, city, rural, or suburbs?
- Proximity to shops – Do you want to be able to walk or have a short drive to stores or will you mind driving 15 minutes or more to get there.
Step 2 – Narrow down your neighborhood searches to perhaps 3 or 4 that you’ve researched. Once you’ve narrowed them down, you can start doing a little more detailed investigating.
Step 3 – Research schools, crime statistics, neighborhood demographics, parks and recreation, shopping and access to major roads and highways. You can find a lot of this information online. Some helpful sites are crimereports.com, city-data.com, yahoo.realestate.com/neighborhoods and greatschools.net.
Step 4 – Play detective – After doing your research, visit your prospective neighborhoods and drive around them and in the community. Go on different occasions, day, evening, weekend and get a feel of what it’s like.
Look at the homes. Are they well maintained? Are there many homes for rent or sale? This could be a trouble sign. Talk to people you see living in the neighborhood and ask them questions. Imagine yourself living there and see how you feel. Do you feel good or is there an uneasy feeling?
Step 5 – Now that you’ve chosen the neighborhood you want to live in, now you can begin choosing the right home for you.
Evaluate features and decide what you want in a home.
If you’ve never shopped for a home before, you may have no idea what features are important to you. You might take for granted that all homes nowadays have a dishwasher, for example, but you might discover during your preliminary shopping that many older kitchens still don’t have dishwashers. Or you might have never given thought to garage size, but realize when looking that you’ll need a two-car garage and a storage shed for your vehicles and your lawn equipment. Preliminary shopping exposes you to home features and amenities, and gives you an opportunity to decide which ones are important to you.
Get a picture of prices in an area.
The final part of the picture is given prices in an area. Many new home buyers start out with a picture in their minds of the home they want, but discover during the buying process that the home they want simply isn’t available in the desired price point, or maybe not in the desired neighborhood. Without doing some preliminary shopping, this realization might come after a realtor has shown you a dozen houses – or more. Get an idea of pricing before you begin shopping, to save both you and your realtor time.
Beware of Home Valuation Tools
Many of the home valuation tools that you find on the Web don’t offer you the objective input that you need to truly determine an accurate home valuation. These tools are often referral sources for particular real estate agents, and only include a small sampling of properties specific to the real estate agent or company. To truly get an accurate home valuation, you need an objective sampling of comparable properties.
Use multiple websites for home valuation
One of the first steps you can take to make sure you get a fairly accurate home valuation assessment is to use multiple websites in your home valuation efforts. You can still use the tools at a website, but use the tools at another website, too. Use at least three or four home valuation tools on various websites, and see whether or not the tools agree with one another.
If you get a close, but not exact, number from the different sources, you probably have a fairly accurate assessment of your home’s value. However, if you get the exact same number from every website, you may just be looking at multiple websites that pull data from the same source; which isn’t objective at all.
Check out property tax databases for home value data
Another way in which you can use the Web for effective home valuation purposes is to use property tax databases to get a rough idea of the home values yourself. More and more cities and county offices are making their tax assessment databases available online.
You can sift through this information yourself to find out what similar properties have sold for in your neighborhood over the past few years. This also gives you an idea of the price trend in the area you’re considering; are prices generally going up, or down? Doing this footwork yourself definitely takes more time, but generally yields more objective results.
Go Home Shopping During the Off-Season
One of the best ways you can get a great deal when you buy a home is to shop for a home during the off-season. The spring market is traditionally the busiest time of year for home sales, followed by the fall. If you’re looking for a great deal precipitated by a lack of competition and motivated sellers, shop during the off-season. Late July and August are slow periods, because many people are on vacation during those times, but winter tends to be the slowest period and may therefore produce the best deals.
Winter may bring the best deals for homebuyers
Winter and the holiday season is traditionally the slowest time of year for home sales. Most buyers are unmotivated to tramp around in the cold looking at homes, and people tend to be hectic during the holidays and not thinking of home sales. However, if you’ve got the flexibility to shop during the winter, you can get some of the best deals.
People who sell in the winter are typically motivated sellers. They have a reason to put themselves through the hassle of selling during holidays, and that reason usually means they’re on a tight timeframe and may be willing to negotiate deals or drop prices in order to sell the home.
Because fewer people shop in the winter, winter sellers may find they don’t get enough interest, or they have to drop prices in order to make a sale – all good things for potential buyers shopping for a deal.
The longer the winter, the longer your window of opportunity to shop during the off-season. In warm climates, such as Southern California, the spring market may start as early as February. In cold climates, such as Northern Maine, the winter can last months longer than normal and you have a much longer window during which to find off-season deals.