Just as more Americans choose to do their taxes online rather than work with a professional tax preparer, many are also looking for a tech assist in buying a new home. Sounds great, right? Not so fast.
Sure, people have met online and ended up marrying and starting a family, but that doesn’t mean you should make the biggest purchase of your life based on info found on marketing apps like Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com or FSBO.com. According to financial news site Investopedia, much of the info found on househunting dating apps isn’t all that accurate.
Should you be wary of online listing sites?
Househunting online is great for getting ideas as to what you might be interested in, but finding and hiring a real estate agent is — in our opinion — the way to go. Let’s take a look:
1 – Outdated Data
When searching online for a new home, you want the most up-to-date info possible. Unfortunately, by their own admission, the online househunting sites have a lot of outdated listings. That’s bad news for buyers, who might come across a listing that fits their budget, neighborhood preference, etc., only to find that the home was sold before it even made it online. Some sites may keep up outdated listings live to remain competitive and attract more traffic and advertisers. But that doesn’t help the buyer. A day or two wasted chasing dead listings could be the reason you miss getting your dream home altogether.
2 – Elusive Pricing
Real estate agents work for commission, it’s true, and sellers often opt for the less expensive route of online listings. But the sites are not trying to get the best deal for their client as an agent does. It’s not unheard of for a seller to rely on a “digital estimate” when determining the value of their home, and frankly, those estimation calculators are not always accurate.
That means sellers could actually lose money when not having a professional handle their home sale. Similarly, if a buyer misses warning signs that a real estate agent might have noticed, they might offer way too much or waste their time bidding on a home that will never be appraised for as much as the value of their offer. If you read the fine print on the online estimators, you’ll find that the househunting apps themselves admit that their estimates can be off by as much as 20% of the final sales price. Better to have a real agent who knows the values of homes in the neighborhood you’re searching for help with pricing.
3 – You Won’t Get The Full Picture
If you use one of these sites to find your next home, you should know that you won’t even see a good percentage of homes for sale in the area you’re considering. That’s because many of these third-party aggregator sites pull data from other online sources, and due to data inaccuracies, some realtors nationwide are removing their listings altogether. In this way, they can ensure these listings are handled per the industry’s code of ethics and respective state laws. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, that may mean that you’re not getting the complete picture of what’s available.
4 – You’re Not An Expert
Don’t take this personally, but unless you’re a real estate agent yourself — or you’ve bought and sold a ton of homes — you’re not an expert. Buying and selling a home is complicated and time-consuming. You need to be cunning, know the ins and outs of the process, be excellent at math, have great timing and have a pretty good understanding of real estate laws which vary from state to state. An experienced real estate agent has seen it all before and will guide you through complex steps in mere minutes. If you run into the same challenge on your own, it could take hours or even days of frustration to figure it out yourself.
5 – It’s Not Really Local
Many people idle away their free time checking out homes for sale all across the country. It’s fun. We get it. That’s the dream of homeownership. But when you’re serious about putting down roots in a specific community, nothing beats working with a person who knows the neighborhood. That’s because real estate is at its best when it’s localized. Only someone who works the local streets will have direct access to the entire database of all local MLS listings. Even if you find something you like online and ask for more info, the real estate listing websites simply sell your inquiry to the listing agent for a price. That’s not very local. You can sidestep all that by walking into a real estate broker’s office and sitting down with a real person who can help.
6 – Time (and Reputation) Wasted
The unsuspecting homebuyer can waste a ton of time searching through properties that are mispriced, under contract or sold and no longer available. It’s the same frustration felt when trying to book a vacation online. You find a trip you like but then spend time looking at other offers — you either lose out on the one you wanted in the first place or realize the first offer was used as a lure to get you to buy the more expensive itinerary. Not only is this a time suck, but the fact that online sites don’t take down listings that may no longer be available also hurts the business reputation of the realtors representing them.
7 – Matchmaking Mistakes
In the end, real estate is a business. But it’s a people business. Agents who earn their living helping people find dream homes are proud and accommodating for the most part. Homebuyers and home sellers deserve to work with honest and knowledgeable Realtors skilled at matching buyers and sellers with the homes that make them happy at a price they can afford. That’s a lot different than a digital experience — however user-friendly its design — that matches prospective buyers with an agent without any vetting whatsoever. Sure, it’s still a money transaction, but it probably won’t be the place you’ll refer your sibling or best friend when they’re looking for a home.
Why a real live realtor is better
Here’s a quick list of why we feel first-time homeowners (and everyone, really) get the best experience working with a realtor.
- Real estate agents know a home’s history; they can steer you away from troubled properties (like one’s with nutty neighbors or near busy traffic issues).
- They also know secrets, like when a price on a home is about to drop or when a new listing will pop before it hits the market.
- A buyer’s agent may be able to find out information about the home that an online listing often lacks.
- A real estate agent tends to be a neighborhood specialist with first-hand knowledge of the community and the housing stock. They may even have personal experience with many of the houses on the same street you’re considering. And they provide a personal touch you cannot get with an online search.
- When you’re ready, A real estate agent will prepare your offer and explain each step.
- A real estate agent can guide you through the mortgage and inspection process.
- Plus, a local real estate agent complies with local laws, customs and practices and can navigate all the legal aspects of the transaction. Try getting Zillow or Trulia to do that.
For more reading on the topic, may we suggest the following articles from our archives: