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The Home Search: Experience vs. Online Tools

I was just sitting down to write about why online home searches can give an incomplete picture.  Since I haven’t been home searching in a while, I went back to my old friend Zillow to look at the home we almost purchased. 

One feature I really loved on Zillow is that it gives the transaction history from public record, so you can see how much the current owners bought it for, etc.  This particular home was on the market originally for $215,000 this year.  The interesting thing is, Zillow lists that this home was sold in 2001 for a 1.8 million dollars.  Excuse me?  Am I reading this correctly or has my coffee not kicked in yet?  Let me tell you that this home is in no way, by any stretch of the imagination, a 2 million dollar home. 

This is just one example.

My husband is a big sports guy, before I met him I knew as much about football as was explained by Ace Ventura.  Now I find myself using sports analogies to explain how I feel. 

Online home searches are an incomplete picture.

So, has their regular, free to the public site.  It’s really a great site, tons of information.  But that’s just the beginning.  They also have ESPN Insider.  My husband literally drools over what is available on Insider.  It’s basically a whole new world.  It’s behind the scenes.  It’s the juicy stuff.  So, if Trulia and Zillow are like ESPN, working with a good Buyer’s Agent is like Insider.

I think home search sites are incredible resources, I really do.  Like I’ve said before, I lived on them during the home search process.  But the fact is, they are just a resource, and I would never recommend to anyone to solely use online searches in buying a home.  Besides the fact that agents have access to more advanced search software, they also have experience.

For example, these sites allow you to estimate the monthly mortgage payment.  When we first were looking at a home, we used this tool to estimate the home value we could afford.  We did not know that these estimates do not include property tax and home insurance, leaving their estimate with essentially no practical value.  An experienced agent can give you a full picture of your monthly payments.

Just because you can read and follow a Bobby Flay recipe, doesn’t mean you’re going to win any “throw downs.”

 Similarly, it’s not just filling in a search; it’s understanding the value, the value of the home, the value of the neighborhood, the value of hard wood.  These are things that you learn from experience.  These are the reason we worked with an agent.  

There really is no substitute for experience.