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Online house hunting tools: How to find the best real estate websites and take a virtual house tour

by | Feb 18, 2021


There’s no place like home, and if you’re looking for the perfect place to live, start your search online. The internet is a powerful tool for house hunting, with 52% of homebuyers finding the home they end up buying online. And when it comes to buying a home, it’s best to leave no stone unturned: 12% of buyers wished they had used additional or different online resources according to Zillow. When you use the internet to find your next residence, you can explore all your options, from mortgage affordability to neighborhood details.

Your home search starts online with the best real estate websites

Lay your foundation

Often, the first step in buying a home is determining what you can afford in the area you would like to live. You can determine how much you can likely afford using an online tool like a mortgage affordability calculator. An online mortgage affordability calculator will only give you an idea of what you can afford – it’s even better to get pre-approved or pre-qualified to get a concrete amount so you can begin saving the 20% recommended down payment. If you are a veteran or a first-time home buyer, you may be able to reduce your down payment.

Finding a mortgage is easier than ever thanks to the internet. Many funding institutions are only online, making the process fast, accessible, and efficient. Some of the top-rated online mortgage companies include Better, Rocket Mortgage, and Ally Bank according to NerdWallet. Online mortgage lenders will require a few documents and will check your credit, so be prepared to provide that information.

Figuring out how much you can afford lays the groundwork for the fun part: house hunting.

Do your research

With a target price in mind for your home, you can begin to look at houses in your desired area. The best house hunting apps and real estate websites will give you plenty of information about each house you look at, including estimated monthly payments, the history of the home, the square footage, and the number of rooms. Whatever you want to know about the house, you can likely learn about it through a website like Trulia, Zillow, RedFin, or Realtor.com.

This is a great opportunity to define your must-haves and nice-to-haves. Do you need a second bedroom for an at-home office? Maybe you can’t live without air conditioning or a fireplace. The best real estate websites allow you to refine your search by factors that are important to you. Some even allow you to factor in the view you would like or calculate the length your commute would be if you lived there.

You may also want to look at the neighborhood and the nearby amenities by using Google Maps. With its Street View tool, you can explore the area surrounding your potential new home through panoramic photos. Click through the neighborhood along the streets to see what it looks like. You can take it one step farther by getting real insights from people who live in the city or area you want to move to. AreaVibes creates a livability score for towns and cities in the United States. This livability score includes ratings and reviews from real locals so you can get a good picture of what it might be like to live there. Most neighborhood websites also include information about crime, so you can get a good sense of how safe it will be.

Take a virtual house tour as you start your house hunting journey

Go on virtual house tours

One of the best parts of using house hunting apps or real estate websites is looking through the photos online. In fact, many people have even made a hobby out of it. Thanks to the pandemic in 2020, many house listings include virtual house tours as well, so take advantage if one is available. Some listings offer live video tours, while others may include prerecorded walkthroughs. Previewing a home virtually can help you save time and narrow down your search, whether you end up viewing listings in person or not.

You can always ask a real estate agent to schedule a live virtual house tour so you can get any questions you have answered before you take the time to see the home in person. When you take your virtual house tour, be sure to ask the agent to show you the important details, like any appliances (inside and out) or what the exterior of the house looks like. You can also get some intel on what the neighborhood is like, if there are any HOA fees, and what schools are nearby.

A real estate agent can be helpful as you start house hunting

Find a real estate agent

Your next step is finding a real estate agent. Now that you know your price point, you have your must-haves and nice-to-haves list, and you have a good idea of what neighborhood you want to live in, it’s time to find the perfect place for you. There is a difference between a Realtor® and a real estate agent, so be sure to read up on both to determine the best fit for you. Your agent can help you find the right place and negotiate a deal that works for you.

The property you’re interested in may already have a real estate agent listed, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. To find a great real estate agent, you can check ratings and online reviews and peek at any social media profiles or website for the agent you’re interested in using.

Online research is a key part of house hunting, allowing you to compare and contrast different listings, view history, and learn about the neighborhood amenities all in one place. By taking a deep dive into your financial options, the homes in the neighborhoods you like and can afford, and finding a stellar real estate agent, you’ll be well on your way to finding the home of your dreams.

For more articles about living with technology, be sure to visit the CenturyLink Discover blog.

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