Updated April 15, 2020 with the latest and best websites for home buyers.
When you're getting ready to make one of the biggest purchases of your life, there's no such thing as too much information.
Even if you're planning to buy your next house with an agent (87% of home buyers ultimately do), chances are you'll still be conducting your own, supplemental research online. But with so many sites and informational sources to choose from, it can be hard to know which way to turn — or who to trust.
Who has the best home value estimator or most up-to-date school district info? Where can you find great (legit) deals on foreclosures and government-owned properties? Or how about accurate crime statistics for different neighborhoods?
Well, you're in luck! We've compiled a comprehensive guide with 15 websites every home buyer should know about. From the familiar (Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com) to the not-so-familiar (RealtyTrac, Neighborhood Scout, CityProtect), our list provides an overview of each site, along with tips on how to use it to your advantage.
Our goal is empowering you to find better deals, make informed-decisions, and ultimately end up with your ideal outcome. Happy hunting!
Zillow is the most popular real estate site out there. It's an incredibly easy, free way to search for property listings in a given area — and also offers some additional, built-in benefits.
Buyers can filter homes by location, price, home type, features, and more. You'll get an estimate of monthly costs, including mortgage fees, insurance, and property taxes. It also provides neighborhood info, like local schools, commute times, and walkability scores.
In addition to the list price, Zillow also features a “Zestimate” — a proprietary estimate of a home's true value, based on recent sales and appreciation in that area. This can be a useful reference point when assessing the fairness of a home's price, though it should be mentioned that these are ballpark estimates with a built-in margin of error (4% or more). In other words, you should never make an offer based on a Zestimate alone — this is where an experienced, local agent who knows the market can really help.
While nearly everyone is familiar with Zillow's property database, fewer people are aware that it also offers a free research platform. This is an incredibly useful tool for researching local market trends like seasonal fluctuations in inventory levels, median home values vs sale prices, and more.
Like Zillow, Trulia can help you find and compare homes easily (Trulia is actually owned by Zillow). You can employ a variety of filters, including number of bedrooms, price range, type of home, and more. The site is simple to navigate and gives you a general overview of the surrounding neighborhood and other homes in the area.
One unique and helpful tool Trulia offers is an interactive map feature where you can view the neighborhood through different filters. For instance, when you click on the “crime filter” you can see where crime is highest or lowest in a given area.
Additional map filters include commute times, nearby schools, median age ranges, home affordability scores, and where the restaurants and shops are located throughout the community.
Realtor.com is another great house hunting resource. However, what sets this site apart is its attention to detailed statistics and data.
You'll find highly accurate data on home values, the neighborhood and region's housing market forecast, details on the best schools and businesses in the area, as well as crime rates and commute times.
The site also offers additional support and tips about buying homes, how to calculate your mortgage payments, and helps you determine how much home you'll actually be able to afford.
Homes.com gathers its information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), as well as other real estate websites. The site is a good platform for comparing homes in your area and allows you to look at how the property's value has changed over time.
With this information you can gain a sense of the neighborhood's home value trends and whether your home will appreciate in value in the future.
One useful and unique feature offered by Homes.com is the Snap & Search tool. With Snap & Search, if you see a home you love, simply take a picture and the site will find similar homes in your area that match the features and type of home in the picture.
HomeFinder offers a huge selection of homes for rent or purchase, as well as interesting categories such as “off market” properties. It functions similarly to Zillow or Trulia, offering an interactive search tool that filters for price, size, and property type.
Where HomeFinder can provide special value for buyers is its appeal to the FSBO seller. HomeFinder's “Single Enhanced Listing” is explicitly framed for FSBO sellers as an alternative to listing their home on MLS through an agent or flat fee MLS service. That means buyers could find exclusive properties on HomeFinder that aren't listed on other popular real estate sites, and negotiate directly with the seller.
Auction.com, a clearinghouse of bank-owned and foreclosed property, currently offers over 30,000 properties, with opening bids that can be as low as one-third of their estimated resale value.
Anyone who's ever bought something on eBay understands the built-in advantages and disadvantages of buying something via auction. If you're the only interested party, you're going to get a bargain; however, most properties on Auction.com have a reserve price — if no bid meets or exceeds that price, the auction will end without a sale. Also, if a property attracts a lot of interest, a bidding war can often drive the price way up.
Sellers who auction their properties prioritize a fast sale over maximum price, and it's a relatively expensive way to sell, once you factor in auction fees — these motivated sellers translate to a lot of potential value for buyers here. Just remember that if you do win an auction, you have to put 10% down immediately, so be prepared.
RealtyTrac offers buyers access to over 120 million foreclosed properties. Customers who purchase a subscription service also get access to foreclosure addresses, loan histories, and dates and locations of auctions.
Buyers can get great deals by shopping foreclosures, but there are some complications to keep in mind. If you buy a bank-owned property, it's usually an as-is sale. That means the bank isn't going to do any repairs or work on the property prior to the sale.
It will come with a clear title, though, so the buyer doesn't have to worry about liens or back taxes. This may not apply if the buyer purchases through a foreclosure auction. These properties can come with a clouded title, which can require the buyer to assume those debts.
Still, a foreclosure auction can yield a great deal, as the homes will be offered for the amount of the outstanding mortgage, which can be quite low. Just remember that the price has to be paid in full, in cash, at the time of the sale — generally speaking, mortgages aren't allowed for auction purchases.
Ever wonder what happens to foreclosed properties that had federally-backed mortgages? Well, they end up on HomeSales.gov. This is where the U.S. government sells all the homes that were once backed by USDA, VA, or HUD mortgages.
As you might imagine, the federal government is a dispassionate and rational seller, so buyers can definitely find deals here. But they're not the most engaged homeowners, either; most of these properties are sold “as is” and can come with problems ranging from minor to major. It can also be difficult to view the properties — some will even require you to put down an offer just to get a look at it in person.
9. Neighborhood Scout
Neighborhood Scout is an intensely data-driven site that matches buyers with their ideal neighborhoods. Using proprietary methodologies from a leading data scientist, they've identified a long list of over 600 neighborhood characteristics that include (but go way beyond) the more basic metrics, like school district, crime rate, and demographics, you'll see on sites like Zillow.
Yes, most of the big sites let you explore neighborhoods using statistics like this, but Neighborhood Scout's angle is that you can “zoom in” much closer — to the block-to-block level of granularity — to find the micro-hood that's best for you.
They also use all this data to produce market forecasts they claim are 90% accurate over a three-year timespan. If you believe in the power of Big Data, this is definitely the site for you.
Another great site that may not be on your radar is GreatSchools.org. Assessing the types and quality of schools is certainly important if you've got children — but it can also reflect long-term value for homes in that area. Homes in good school districts typically retain — and accrue — value very well, which is incredibly important if you ever want to resell (or tap into your home's equity).
GreatSchools.org scores each school on a scale from 1 to 10, taking into account everything from test scores and college readiness, to discipline issues and teacher-to-student ratios.
This information can help you make an informed choice about where to put down roots and start a family, though you'll want to visit the actual school's websites in order to get more details on school district boundaries or if there's a lottery system to attend a particular school.
CityProtect is a massive interactive crime map, run by the tech giant Motorola, that works in concert with 1,000-plus police departments across the U.S. to upload and display the latest crime reports. That makes it, arguably, the most accurate tool available to home buyers to scope out the safety of potential future neighborhoods.
When looking for a new home, cable and internet may be the last thing on your mind. You're most likely focused on qualifying for a mortgage or finding a home close to work.
However, you should keep in mind the hurdles and extra costs that come with getting cable, internet, and phone services. You want to make sure your preferred carrier covers the area you're moving to.
BroadbandNow.com allows you to search zip codes and your location to see which providers and services are in your area. They include detailed information such as pricing, coverage, set up fees, termination fees, and help you compare one service provider against another.
When determining your monthly budget for your new home, be sure to factor in internet, cable, and phone costs, as spending an additional $60 each month can really add up quickly when you're strapped for cash.
13. Google Maps
While technically not a real estate website, Google Maps can give you a great sense of homes and neighborhoods you're looking to buy in. You can get a 3D street view of any home or block, as well as businesses and other nearby amenities.
Additionally, with Google Maps you can easily figure out your commute time to work, school, restaurants, friends' homes, and grocery stores to see how long it will usually take you on a certain day and time.
With these details, you can decide if the area is actually too far — you may not be willing to drive an hour to work and back every single day.
Amenities like nightlife, shopping, and restaurants are as important to many home buyers as square footage, crime rate, and school district, and there's no better place than Yelp to scope out all the local shops, cafes, and bars near a potential home.
Yelp offers authentic, up-to-date reviews of local establishments; eagle-eyed readers could even glean insights about the neighborhood's prospects by figuring out where businesses are thriving and where they're stagnant.
At the very least, you'll be able to track down the nearest spot to get a good latte.
15. Clever Real Estate
While a lot of the sites and data sources on this list are great for pre-purchase research, working with an agent pays huge dividends once you actually start your home search. The real-time access to the MLS an agent gets you can mean getting to a new listing before the competition, and their negotiation skills can save you thousands on the final sale price, as well as win you valuable concessions.
If you're ready to buy — or even just starting to think about it — Clever Real Estate offers a free, nationwide agent matching service.
Clever introduces you to multiple, top-performing agents from major brokerages like Keller Williams, Century 21, RE/MAX, so you can compare your options and choose the best fit.
In addition to all of the services you'd expect from a traditional buyer's agent — e.g., showings, help with offers, negotiations, paperwork, closing, etc. — you'll also get:
- Real-Time MLS Alerts: Instant notifications when a home matching your criteria is listed on the MLS.
- On-Demand Showings: Tour any MLS listed home whenever you'd like — see a property in as little as one hour.
- Home Buyer Rebate: If you're buying in a qualifying state, you could get up to 1% back at closing (commission rebates are allowed in 40 of 50 U.S. states — learn more here).