Online Tools Make Real Estate Buying Easier

Online Tools Make Real Estate Buying Easier


I believe that this spring will be a surprisingly good season to buy a home. Although the months of April, May and June are typically the time when sales begin to improve from their seasonal winter lows, some analysts fear that the current recession will hold back buyers.

Has Your Market Hit Bottom Yet?

mortgage applicationTrue, quite a few markets across the country have yet to hit bottom as job losses will continue to grow and home prices will keep moving downward. Most vulnerable is any market where homes were well overpriced to begin with (most of Southern California) or where job loss has been accelerating at a rapid pace (Miami, New York and Los Angeles to name a few).

What this means is that the prospective home buyer should have a very good feel for their local market before jumping in. But how can that be done?

Internet Tools: Zillow and Trulia

Well, good research will help you get a feel for your local market particularly by helping you get a better idea as to when home prices are nearing the bottom. Online, I’ve found a pair of tools — Zillow and Trulia — which can be good places to help gauge your local market. Since I’ve mentioned Zillow in the past, I though I’d share with you some information I discovered about Trulia.

For the record, I’m not in the market for a new home, but I have a family member who is. So, besides encouraging him to keep in touch with a qualified real estate professional, I also remind him that his personal research can help out too.

Trulia Has Been Tracking Nationally Since 2006

First launched in 2005, Trulia featured homes in two local markets — New York and Los Angeles — before expanding nationally the following year. With its major expansion, the site (which is free) began feature heat maps which are color coded to indicate price trends in a specific area, comparable listings, news feeds and an online community. I’ve yet to venture to the community part of the site, as serious house hunters seem to hang out there.

Just this past week, Trulia rolled out a new feature that will certainly raise the site’s visibility. Called CompareIt, this tool allows users to choose up to five properties for sale to compare with each other. This is a fabulous feature as it lets you see five properties side by side where you can compare price, square footage, listing type, days on the market, year built, broker, a lengthy description and more.

Many Benefits You Can Take Advantage Of

You can set up price alerts to let you know if the price has been dropped, write personal notes about the property that only you can see, ask the community questions about the property (local real estate agents are online and more than willing to pitch in) and more.

As with most any site, you can take full advantage of Trulia only if you register, which takes a minute. No need to confirm your registration — you can use Trulia the moment your personal information has been submitted.

Not Perfect, But Highly Useful

As with any community of its kind, Trulia isn’t perfect. The Wall Street Journal recently shared information about Trulia which revealed that occassionally a home that has been sold is still featured on the site. But the site’s partners help keep Trulia updated and, in this case, the problem was corrected within minutes of being pointed out.

I also searched for my home on Trulia to see what information they had stored about it. Though the property information was correct, they showed what the home sold for in 1999, but not what we bought for in 2004.  Zillow, on the other hand, had the correct price we paid for it as well as current tax information. A small error, but one to note if you are looking for a home.

Ready, Set, Bid!

Of course, if you are planning to buy a home over the next few months, you’ll want to make sure that your finances are in order. Make sure that your credit is in order, that your paperwork is ready (bills, tax forms, etc.), and that a mortgage broker pre-qualifies you for a loan.

Even though we’re very much in a buyer’s market, having everything in place on your part will ensure that things go a lot smoother than if you have to scramble at the last moment to piece everything together.

Happy home shopping and enjoy the updated Trulia features.


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About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Matt's Musings", his personal blog. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and blogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".