Question: What do I need to know about searching online for homes? Is there a specific site you’d recommend?
There’s no debating the fact that the internet has transformed the real estate industry and in particular, how buyers search for houses. I’ll admit that since entering the industry post-internet in 2009, I’m honestly not even sure how buyers searched for houses other than looking at for sale signs in yards (sounds efficient, right?). Today there are literally thousands of websites that a consumer can search — but this is DC — we all want to know about new listings first and have access to the most homes for sale. This leads me to a common question that I am frequently asked — where is the best place to search online for homes?
I’ll do my best to spare you the super technical details, but to start with, a little background information is useful. First, we have an MLS or multiple listing service. MLS’s are private databases that are created, maintained and paid for by real estate professionals to help their clients buy and sell property (NAR). The MLS is where real estate professionals enter listings, search for properties and conduct market research.
Unlike tools available to consumers, the MLS ensures accurate timely information, and maintains a full online record of all listings and sales. Since the MLS is only available to real estate professionals who subscribe to the service, it isn’t a place for consumers to search for homes or do research, but leads me to the next option.
Internet Data Exchange (IDX), in it’s simplest form, is MLS data, available for consumers. Within IDX, information from property listings and sales is available to be displayed by other participants. Certain rules and restrictions apply in the content that can be displayed and the requirements of how it can be shared. IDX data includes all properties that are actively listed for sale with a real estate professional. It doesn’t include “coming soon” properties or properties that are listed as “private exclusives” or sold off market. Through the IDX, real estate data is displayed on third party websites and apps.
If you’ve looked at any real estate online, odds are very high that you have used an IDX to access MLS data. If you search google for the address of a property listed for sale, the results will include IDX data on many different websites or apps. While different websites may choose to display different information, or in a different format, it’s all the same information, from the same place — the MLS. What can vary is how frequently the data is updated (how quickly new listings appear), and how you can access and manipulate the data for your search.
The short answer to the question is — you should search on whatever website or app works best for you. When you’re ready to enlist the assistance of a real estate professional, they will be able to use the MLS to help with your search. Consumer facing websites and apps are an excellent tool for getting a sense of available options at a particular price or location, and having this information available is incredibly helpful for buyers and sellers.
Personally, there are apps and websites that I find to be much more user friendly than the MLS but unfortunately, they lack the accuracy, depth of information and timeliness that are essential for professional use. Our regional MLS has a consumer search page (using IDX data) which I think can be a little more up to date and accurate than some of the others, and an app called homesnap that enables real estate professionals to connect with their clients — you can connect with me on homesnap here.