From years of helping buyer clients search for homes you develop a sense for what works and what doesn’t. As part of my business, I have always encouraged my clients to conduct their own online home searches to supplement the listings I send. I tend to feel that the #1 expert on which home is best for my buyers is: (as you probably guessed) the buyers themselves. But you all need my advice and experience when it comes to the transaction. What I’ve found from talking with many of my clients about their own home searches can help you avoid mistakes if you’re doing some searching yourself. Here are the top 5 biggest mistakes buyers make when searching for homes online and my suggestions on how to avoid them:
1) Using Sites that Don’t Update Regularly: most of the websites that allow you to conduct your own home searches get their information from the MLS. The MLS makes updated information available several times daily, yet it is the responsibility of the website owners to keep their site up to date. Some websites, like my own Illinois Home Search update the data daily – that means new listings that are in the MLS show up on my website that day or the next and homes that are off the market, under contract or sold are quickly removed or flagged. However, there are quite a few big-name websites that update data perhaps once a month and sometimes longer! Surprisingly, in many cases, individual agent websites like this one are often more up-to-date than the big search sites. Because an agent focuses only on one region, it’s much easier to keep the data updated regularly than for a huge search site that has to coordinate updates from hundreds of different MLSes all over the country. If you do happen to get roped into using one of the large, slow-updating sites, there are a few problems you’ll face. First, those juicy real estate deals that everyone is looking for will likely already be under contract by the time you see them on those sites. Second, you’re going to waste a lot of time finding the perfect homes only to learn when you try and set up showings that those homes went under contract long ago and just haven’t been updated. Whichever site you decide to use to do your searching, you have to make sure that it’s kept updated. I’m not going to name names of the bad websites here, so how will you know? Well, if you’re looking for a search that’s kept up to date you can always try mine at: http://www.illinoislandandhomes.com/real_estate_search. If you’re using another site and it’s a “bad” one, you’ll find out real quick when you start to try and set up showings for homes you found and half or more are under contract but they’re not flagged as under contract on the website you used to find them. When you see that, it’s time to find a different site.
2) Using Multiple Sites to Search: there are a lot of different sites out there. Once you find one that works for you and verify that it’s kept up to date, my advice is stick with it and don’t site hop. Since most every website uses data from the MLS, every website is going to have pretty much the same home listings. The big difference, as I mentioned above, is how often they are kept updated. Sometimes clients find “different” homes for sale on certain websites and get the impression that those sites have more listings available. However, in most cases, those websites are displaying outdated listings that are either already under contract or sold. In some cases I suspect this is being done on purpose to make it seem that certain sites have “more” information in order to lure more searchers. In the end, however, all of the “extra” home listings you find on these sites are illusions – either sold, off the market or under contract. Stick with one site, become used to the way it works and make sure it’s updated regularly and you’ll be way more successful and efficient than site hopping.
3) Not Being Selective Enough: I’ve seen clients with lists of 80 homes they’ve picked out to view before we even start viewing homes. It can often seem desireable to “see it all” before making a choice on a home. However, if this includes seeing homes that are very low on your priority list, we start to run into several problems. First, you can actually get “search paralysis”. Because there are so many homes on the market to consider, trying to consider them all creates a psychological paralysis when it comes to making a choice. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you go to one of those huge buffets where there are 50 dessert options – you don’t know where to begin because there are so many choices! Second, by putting aside homes you like but see early on just to “see more homes” means there is a great likelyhood that those homes will sell while you’re seeing more homes. I’ve had this happen a number of times where clients see the home of their dreams the first day but still want to see 20 more homes to get a basis for comparison. Inevitably, when they circle around to the home they loved and go to make an offer, they find that it sold while they were looking at 20 homes they didn’t like as much. Don’t let this happen to you!
4) Not Understanding the Buying Process: I work with quite a few clients who first contact me after they’ve found the perfect home on my real estate search. Often, very few of these clients have gone through the first steps of the homebuying process and prepared themselves to buy. This includes getting pre-approved for a loan or moving funds into an account and obtaining a proof-of-funds letter for cash purchases. The time it takes to get these things done can cause a delay that eventually costs those buyers the perfect home. If you are prepared to buy and are already searching for a home, there are a few things you need to do first to make sure that you’re in a position to buy the home of your dreams when it comes up on your screen. Contact me to go through my pre-buying checklist to make sure you don’t lose out like some of my other clients have.
5) Not Getting an Agent Involved: I know how it is – you want to search for homes without some agent breathing down your neck or bugging you saying, “buy, buy, BUY!” First, understand that I don’t work that way. I see myself as more of a counselor than a salesman. I don’t use high-pressure sales tactics and I don’t pester. What I do, among many other things, is help my buyers understand about the market, the buying process and supplement what they do with searches of my own. An agent is a great resource for questions about homes or virtually anything regarding real estate. Having someone to turn to during the search process for these things is vital. I do understand that there are agents out there that do use high-pressure sales on clients and do pester – that’s why it’s very important to get the right agent involved. Contact me and let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll guarantee I’ll work hard for you and yet will give you the space and freedom you want to still do your own searches.