Where is the best place to search for homes?

Recently I have found myself playing around with some of the big national search engines out there. I focused on Realtor.com, Trulia.com and Zillow.com. I have searched for homes on each, and have used their android apps on my tablet as well as on my phone. Here is what I found on all three. These sites pull listings from various source, syndicate them to their website for you as a consumer to search for homes free of charge. It is a popular business model, there are hundreds of sites that do it, these three listed above are the biggest. The way they make their money is by selling you the consumer to me the agent. Some do it through selling advertising on their site, so do it by charging the agent to be displayed on the site, and some charge a referral fee for sending you to the agent. I tell you that just so you understand what drives these sites. So, let me get into my comments about them.

Realtor: Ok, I really tried to be objective here since this site carries the REALTOR name and all it has to be good, right? In my opinion, it is the worst of these three sites. It might as well not even exist. At one point in time, it was my expectation that buyers calling from homes on realtor.com would be calling about a property that sold six months ago. Now those phone calls are generally about homes that are under contract but still unavailable. I am not sure why realtor.com shows so many homes that are unavailable unless it’s to be able to tell you that they have more listings than anyone else (even if they aren’t for sale). If you use their form to inquire about a listing it doesn’t really tell you where that inquiry is going and I don’t know where it goes. I do know that until we paid to get our listings featured on realtor we never received leads from them. The inquiries we received from the site were those buyers who went through the trouble of hunting up the listing agent info and calling us directly. All these sites use to have people trolling blogs for mention of them if they still do perhaps that person will comment on where inquiries on listings go when the agent isn’t paying to receive them?

Trulia: I dig their tablet app that allows you to show schools as well as homes, but with school districting what it is that school that is two miles away may not be the one that serves the home you are looking at. Overall, it appears their listing data is more accurate then realtor.com returning newer listings and more current listing data. You can select new homes so that you can look at those exclusively but do not rely on it to show you all new home in any given area as there is yet to be a definite source for all new homes. Perhaps someone should put that together but without one source it would be very labor intensive and probably not a profitable venture. They also have an option to select foreclosed homes. This does not search the MLS for default homes but directs you to a link where you can pay money to search foreclosures at realtytrack.com the same foreclosures that are in the MLS and can be searched by your local realtor. I can only assume that trulia is sending you to an affiliate link and they get some monetary benefit from your paid subscription there. The nice thing about trulia is they will put you directly in touch with the listing agent, or you can contact a buyer agent that has paid to advertise on their site if you are ready to have your own representation.

Zillow: When zillow first came out I was running the southern Maryland real estate blog. I talked about them often and from time to time, the founder would comment on that blog. I never should have deleted that but I went into brokerage management for several years and let it die. Anyway, I used to pick on them for their unrealistic values they were putting on homes. I still do not think anyone should rely on the values they provide but the values were a great gimmick that got the site viral before the world knew what the term meant in terms of the internet. It was phenomenal marketing. As for home searches, they are about as good as trulia. They have a foreclosure option as well that takes you to foreclosure.com and I bet there is an affiliate-marketing program for them there. You can also find fsbo websites here as well as rentals making them a bit more robust. One more thought on their values, where as they are wrong I am guessing their algorithm makes them universally wrong. So if the zestimate on one house is off by 10% it probably is on the house next door as well so you can a range of values for an area and perhaps enough information to be able to tell if a listing is way overpriced, or a great value. Do not buy anything without having your agent complete a market analysis for you. If you want to contact, the listing agent and they do not pay zillow you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to hunt up their information. If they do pay, their contact information is in the upper right hand corner easy to find.

Realtor.com still gets the most traffic for these sites according to the most recent information I have found. My guess, all three have studies that show they get the most traffic. The Guldi Group pays for enhanced listing and multiple pictures on Realtor.com trulia and zillow allow that to all listings so you have a better chance of getting more details at one of those site quite honestly. However, the best place to search for listings is going to be your buyer agent’s site. Almost all of these sites update every fifteen minutes directly from the MLS and if you have questions, you are contacting your agent directly every time regardless of whom the listing agent is. If you are looking in Maryland, you can start your search right to the right side of this post.