What to Consider When Shopping for a New Home Online

More and more people every month are finding their new home or property online. There is tremendous convenience and ease with which you can surf through multiple listings, experience interactive virtual tours, and research communities from the comfort of your living room or at the office at work. When it comes to shopping for your new home, the internet affords an abundance of possibilities for learning about and finding real estate. It can be a sensible, time-saving and cost-saving way to go about this significant purchase and with couples both working full time the ability to spend time together looking is far reduced – technology helps increase speed of identification and ultimately acquisition of your next home. In some instances, it can bridge a geographical gap for one’s next cross-country move. Whatever your reasons, you can enjoy the many benefits that online home-shopping provides. 

As you begin, you can be assured that there are a variety of real estate websites available to you, either with or without a cost that you can utilize in your online search for a new home. A simple search- ‘online real estate’- on any search engine will get the ball rolling for you. These sites serve buyers, sellers, renters and real estate agents. A search on a typical real estate site will allow you to set the terms of your search. (Hint: Start broad in your search. You will get more results to view, and you can always remove them if they are not what you are looking for).

Real estate websites offer vastly different services; some will simply list a home with a photo or two, another might also have a simulated negotiating tool to help you practice that process, and still another may offer every service necessary in the chain of events that is home-buying. Be sure to look through a site that you are using….at times it may look like a generic site with many listings, but the listings themselves may be that of other sellers, and the site is actually run by one or a few real estate agents looking to grow their lead base. Nothing wrong with these sites, just good to be aware of who you are giving your information to.

There exists a board spectrum of tools and helps for you on these real estate sites, many are designed to be a one-stop-shop. And often other tools that relate to real estate are offered and are easy to use, like the “Do I prequalify for a mortgage?” button, or a graph showing the ten-year history of home prices in the area, or a selection of possible financing options for you to consider. Some may be extra services offered by the site, others are paid for services either by the consumer or more often the company offering the service (ie: a lender paying for a mortgage calculator on a real estate agent site, the agent gets the buy/sell lead, the lender gets the same lead as a potential mortgage)

With a bit of discernment, it is easy to discover possible finance options online. At the very least, there are some great tools that you can figure out some of the preliminary numbers involved in the home-buying process. For instance, you can discover what mortgage you might prequalify for, or you may be able to roughly calculate what your monthly mortgage payment will be on a certain property. Talking with an actual mortgage broker can be an excellent way to get your personal questions answered so, again, don’t be afraid to enlist the services of someone who knows everything from market value to real estate valuation to coach you in your mortgage requirements.

Real estate websites are set up for making shopping for a home online a little more convenient. They can be helpful in connecting you to the Listing agent (Seller’s rep) , or they can help you find an agent yourself. As a buyer, consider using a real estate agent in a “supplemental” way to your own research and generally the Seller pays so this help may not cost you anything. A real estate agent may have helpful providing inside information on a neighborhood, property, community, values etc. some of which may not be shared by the real estate website. He or she can offer their skills and services while you are busy with your day-to-day life. It is worth noting that the Seller will cover USUALLY cover your agent’s fees- when you buy the home from them but it all depends on the commission amount they offer.  Some agents are now requiring Buyers to sign contracts to work with them to ensure they are paid for their services (Buyer Brokerage Contracts). Buyers usually do not compensate real estate agents for their services; Sellers do, in that your agent’s compensation is taken out of the sale price of the home. However with more pressure on sites like REALTOR.ca, Builders own websites and other FSBO (for sale by owner) sites, the commission may not be enough to cover your agent costs so be sure to clarify how that works.

You may want to go the route of FSBO, or ‘For Sale By Owner.’ There are many solid motives for wanting to do the transaction of a home sale in an unmediated way, but there are several very good reasons to complete this transaction with the help of a skilled real estate professional as noted in the previous article “Hiring a Real Estate Agent”. It is completely up to you.

A few words of caution, however. Because language is not an objective thing, beware of the descriptors you read in listings; know that they are frequently codified as clever ways to say other things. For example, ‘cozy’ may actually mean ‘small’; ‘partial view’ could be a way of describing the building that is in the view out your window, the one that blocks the full view of the landscape. Also, people have been caught fraudulently using real estate websites for financial gain. A common dark act might be to post fake rental properties, asking for a deposit to be sent their way in order to “secure the rental.” Never wire money for this reason; a property owner should always take your cheque and/or be willing to meet you in person. There are ways to make sure that a Seller is legitimate. Some of these ways are built into the website (e.g. a Seller is not allowed to list until they have registered themselves by using a valid credit card as a form of identification). Overall, some discernment is necessary in order to avoid these pitfalls, but it is nothing unnavigable.  The best sites to utilize are those that offer the site as an advertising means to the Seller and are not party to the sale or transaction side of the homes listed.  This should give you the most impartial perspective.

Shopping for your new home online is far less unorthodox than it used to be, some people are now buying their homes “site unseen” from the web and through an agent or Seller.  These types of purchases generally carry final completion clauses like “ subject to the buyer being satisfied upon viewing the property”. Searching for new homes online is growing in frequency and is becoming more user-friendly with each passing day. Done well, it serves many purposes for you, the home buyer. With some research, wise choices and perhaps a bit of consultation from someone with expertise, shopping for a home online can save you a lot of time and money and you will be so much more aware of the marketplace and variety of options available to you



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