buying a home

How do I shop for a house?

The vast majority of buyers, nearly 90%, start the search for a new home online. The major listings websites allow you to search by city, neighborhood, or zip code according to a selection of filters such as home size, price, and style.

For sheer number of listings, Realtor.com, sponsored by the national trade association for Realtors, is best; 80% of its listings are updated every 15 minutes. Zillow includes for-sale-by-owner and other properties not available through traditional agent databases. It also has “Make Me Move” listings: homes that aren’t currently for sale but whose owners have posted a price that would make them reconsider.

Different sites offer different bells and whistles. For example, Realtor has a tool that allows you to search for homes within a specific school district, while Trulia lets you set a maximum commute time to your work address.

You can create accounts and save the homes you like, or save listings to Pinterest or other social media sites. Sign up for new-listing alerts so you’ll know immediately when another home becomes available in your target area.

If you’re not sure what kind of home you want, or even where you want to live, start with the Swipe app by Doorsteps, which allows you to quickly vote “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on a stream of photos from Realtor’s listings. Once you’ve zeroed in on some characteristics, the app will paint a clearer picture of your likes and dislikes.

Searching for a foreclosure? In addition to the major listings websites, try Fannie Mae’s HomePath, which offers residential buyers a 20-day head start before its properties are made available to real-estate investors, and Freddie Mac foreclosure hub HomeSteps.

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