Do-It-Yourself Real Estate Screeners
Homebuyers have a tremendous number of resources available to assist them in finding the perfect home. While a licensed real estate professional provides valuable expertise, people in the market for a home can research potential properties from the comfort of their own computer.

Today, the internet provides an efficient means for narrowing down a property search. (With interest rates at all-time lows and major rate hikes around the corner, many experts say the best time to snag a mortgage is right now. Learn why in Why Now Is The Time To Buy A Home.)

IN PICTURES: 6 Tips On Selling Your Home In A Down Market

Real Estate Search Websites
Real estate search websites such as Trulia.com or Zillow.com allow homebuyers to search based on location criteria by entering a city and state, a zip code, a neighborhood, county, proximity to a particular school or proximity to a certain address. Homebuyers can also search by price changes, for example, properties whose prices have been reduced in the past X days by X percentage, both of which are defined by the searcher.

Users are presented with options to further refine a search by entering any or all of the following:

  • Property type (single-family home, condo, townhome, loft, land, etc.)

  • Price range (price minimum and price maximum)

  • Number of bedrooms

  • Number of bathrooms

  • Square footage

  • Lot size (acreage)

  • Year built (as a range)

  • Listing type (resale, new construction, foreclosures, etc.)

  • Keyword search (for example, "waterfront," "pool," "garage," etc.)


Tips for Effective Searches
  1. Start with a Broad Search One way to begin your search is to simply enter the location criteria. For testing purposes, I entered Atlanta, Georgia to one of the real estate search websites. I found 3,748 properties for sale. This initial broad search confirmed that Atlanta has a variety of properties from which to choose. Not all real estate markets have such a large number of offered properties, so this step allows users to get a general sense of availability.

    It also helps determine how many optional filters will be needed to narrow the results to a manageable number. (Follow this step-by-step guide to make your homeownership dreams a reality in Top Tips For First-Time Home Buyers.)

  2. Narrow with One or Two Options Not wanting to sift through 3,748 properties, I added an optional filter to refine the search results. By selecting "single-family home" I narrowed by results to 1,512 homes. This number was still too high to browse efficiently, so I further refined by setting a price range; in this example, all single-family homes priced between $200,000 and $300,000. This brought the results down to 290 homes, which was still too many to evaluate.

  3. Narrow with More Options By adding additional search criteria, users can greatly impact the number of properties that will appear in the search results. This is helpful in that users will not need to read about 290 homes to find one that suits their needs. I added 3+ bedrooms and 2+ bathrooms to my search, bringing the total homes found to 222.

    One final criterion was added to show homes with living space of more than 1250 square feet. I now had four single-family homes to evaluate. (Find out how to stop chasing the market and start leading it in 5 Things Every Real Estate Pro Knows.)

  4. View the Property Photos and Details A picture is worth a thousand words, and sometimes homebuyers can fall in love with a property with just that first look. Most properties listed on real estate search websites have at least five or six photos showing both the interior and exterior. By clicking on an individual property, users can view photos and read additional details regarding the property. Information such as year built, price per square foot, and lot size will appear here, along with many other important details.

    Many will include the number of days that the property has been listed on the website; this is valuable information because the longer a property is on the market, the more likely it is that the seller may be willing to negotiate. A price history may also be listed which provides a look at any past sales and any changes in asking price for the current listing.

  5. Contact the Seller If you find a property that interests you, follow the instructions on the property details page to contact the seller. This may be an individual or a real estate agent. If you have a preferred real estate agent or a buyer's agent, you may ask them to find details about the property by providing them with the MLS/Source ID number included in the listing.

    Your local agent should be able to arrange a viewing for you to visit the property and take a walk-through to see if it fits your needs. (There's no guarantee that realtors will act in your best interest, but it may be worth hiring one anyway. Don't miss Do You Need A Real Estate Agent?)

It's In Your Hands
The advent of real estate search websites has given homebuyers a definite edge in finding the right property. Since many homebuyers have an idea of exactly the home they are looking for these search tools can help buyers save valuable time and energy when trying to find the perfect home. (Federal subsidies, low interest rates, falling home prices - many are about to come to an end. Find out how to get on board before these benefits run out in 3 Great Real Estate Deals That Won't Last.)

If you're still feeling uninformed, check out last week's business highlights in Water Cooler Finance: Auto Hope, Bubbling Oil and Obamanomics.

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