House Hunting Made Easy

House Hunting Made Easy (or at least a little easier)from_our_columnists

By Megan E. Corcoran

Shopping for a home used to mean sacrificing your weekends for months, if not years! But the Web is making it a whole lot easier to make the biggest and most important investment of your life. Without leaving your computer, figure out how much house you can afford, shop for mortgage rates, find a lender, get pre-approved for a mortgage, research neighborhoods, figure out the going rates for houses in the area, take a virtual reality tour of a home, and even set up a property inspection once you find the home of your dreams–all on the Web!

“I see a lot of people doing research on the Web prior to calling a broker or even visiting the neighborhood,” says Carri Chicurel, general manager at Century 21 MacLevitt in Long Island. She says that Web savvy home shoppers can tour a community on the Internet before coming to her. They can find out about crime rates, houses of worship and price ranges of homes, without even making a trip to that community.

We’re not suggesting that anyone buy a house on the Internet, sight unseen, but it is the ideal place to start the research phase of house hunting–in the comfort and privacy of your own home without pushy realtors or eager sellers. Plus, researching on the Web creates a better-educated consumer, so by the time you do hit the pavement with a realtor, you’ll be in a stronger position because of your homework.

“When someone has done research on the Web, and they come into the office, it’s a more bonafide appointment,” says Chicurel. “These are buyers who buy quickly–there is a good chance you’ll have a sale within the first couple of trips.” She says that the photographs of the homes on the Web also help speed up the process since she can get a good idea of the style of homes the client likes before meeting them.

Of course, you can’t rely 100% on the Web–many times new listings get published in the newspaper making it onto the Web. The serious shopper needs to take a three-pronged approach: researching and checking listings on the Web, checking newspaper listings frequently and working with a realtor in the targeted neighborhood.

“A virtual reality tour won’t tell you what the house next door looks like or whether there is noise,” says Joanna Radecki, a New Jersey realtor with Burgdorff ERA Realtors. She thinks the Web is a great place to start looking for a home, and she is getting more and more calls from people who see her listings online. She quickly adds, however, that if you are relying only on the Web, you are working with one hand tied behind your back.

The best plan of action is to jump on the Web as soon as you are thinking of buying a home, but once you pick a community or narrow it down to a few neighborhoods, talk to a realtor with a large inventory in that area. The good news is that the research phase can be completed with the least amount of exertion and stress. So happy hunting really can be HAPPY HUNTING!

To get started shopping for a house or apartment, check out some of the following sites: National Association of Realtors links to local brokers. A great feature is that you can save listings (like a shopping basket) and keep browsing. ERA Real Estate network is a franchise of independently owned and operated brokerages. 2,600 ERA offices are operating in all 50 states and 17 other countries, so there are tons and tons of listings. This site provides a wealth of neighborhood information: crime statistics, population figures, median income, median age, and median salary.