In the Information Age, thorough and efficient research is king. Individuals can do a lot of the leg work through the Internet and come into investment property deals with more knowledge then ever before. The game has changed and advantage goes to the individual who does their homework. We are now able to double check facts online and get tons of data just with a few clicks of the mouse. This gives you more power to negotiate when you’re ready to make an offer.
Real Estate Search Engines
New metrics show that 80% of home or property buyers used the Internet to find the property, and this statistic is coming from the Rational Association for Realtors—they can't be too happy about that. With new sites offering detailed information about homes, neighborhoods, and schools, sellers are working directly with buyers, saving a ton of money, and buyers are saving money too. A few examples:
Trulia.com offers heat maps gauging the demand for properties by city and neighborhood. Other sites, like Zillow.com have a make me move price. Then there's Apartments.com, which gives apartment hunters the option to locate rentals on their cell phone with GPS. This is a good way to gauge the rental rates for a city if you're looking to buy property in that area.
If you want to find and compare the prices of homes or search for properties across the United States, you can scan sites like these:
Zillow.com -Find homes for sale. Sell homes. Make someone move price. Professional real estate agents can list properties for free. Bird's eye view with Microsoft's Virtual Earth.
Trulia.com - Has heat maps for price range for a certain area. Let’s you know how long a home’s been on the market. Has a lot of options for refining your search – from property type to number of bathrooms to square footage. Also lists schools close the property. Most properties have photos or even virtual tours.
Terabitz.com - Site for buyers, renters, and agents. List of MLS properties updated daily. Uses maps to show proximity to local points of interest – stores and restaurants. Also has lists of foreclosures.
CyberHomes - Uses Microsoft's Virtual Earth for satellite view. Home comparables, neighborhood info (schools, weather, median value). Didn’t see actual photos of the property on the detail page for a property.
Redfin.com - Gives you the number of days the property has been listed. Has a detailed profile of the property with square footage, beds, baths, year built, and more. Has good photos of properties. Gives you neighborhood demographics, schools, stores, and restaurants info. Lists nearby similar sales. Uses Microsoft's Virtual Earth for satellite view. (covers the Bay Area, Boston, L.A., Orange County, San Diego, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Chicago is coming on board soon)
Other real estate resources:
The real estate space on the Internet is growing, and this only helps both investors and buyers, offering more transparency for all parties.
Then there are sites like Rent Slicer, which will give you an idea of the rental rates in a city or region. Here’s a quote from August, the man behind Rent Slicer: "I didn't want to play a guessing game with the rent. I wanted to know what comparable units were renting for, and then I'd set my rent accordingly. However, there were no internet tools that could help me. So, I made one."
We will be adding more to this short list, but here are a few from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, to Forbes magazine's report, real estate economics site, and then a consultant site that offers job projections by state.
Factors in some of these reports or studies weight things like: education level of workforce, crime rate, cultural opportunities, and cost of living. The question really is, is it cheap enough to put my business there but still attractive enough to recruit strong talent to work at my company.
Housing Affordability Index
Mortgage Interest Rates
Also try this mortgage calculator.
Good Old MLS
Check sites for listings: MLS Listings, Craigslist For Sale, and Craigslist Rentals. Google, which seems like it’s always ahead of the game, is another site that lets you search for homes or properties for sale. Here's a link for homes in San Diego for example.
Real Estate Blogs
Find a local blog that gives you insight to what's going on in an area. Here's a list of blogs by state: 500 real estate blogs to watch.
BiggerPockets has a list of the top 35 blogs in the real estate space listed here. Also, take a look at real estate search engine sites, which also have blogs, Zillowblog and Redfin Blog.
Local blog writers will be happy to answer questions if you have them. Just shoot off an email and you'll get a quick reply. Most of the time the bloggers are real estate agents, so they'll have a lot of information about the local market.
Question & Answer Sites
I'm a big fan of Trulia's Voices section. This a quick and easy way to get information on local markets. Answers from buyers, brokers, sellers and locals, just post your question for your city or state.
Great Schools has profiles for more than 120,000 public, private and charter schools nationwide. Search their site to find your school's test scores, teacher/student stats and more.
Take a look at this study done by Trulia and Great Schools. They give you the areas with the best rated schools and the lowest priced homes. Sometimes the homes are higher priced than the average home price for a city nearby, but these homes are more likely to appreciate faster than other properties since they're near quality schools. Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal for pointing me to the article – they also point out that these are just asking prices, so most likely you can slash the price a bit.
But the above article also got me to thinking about other ways you could do an evaluation of properties based on a key factor. In the above case it's schools, but what about for other types of renters and buyers, those who are interested in condos or aren't concerned about schools at this time. Plus, nowadays, with charter schools gaining more popularity, kids are not going to schools that are nearby. There could be studies based on properties that have a view, are ones that nobody can build behind you, those that are near public transportation, and those that are near Starbucks, those that are near a college or freeway. The list goes on and on, but I think it's good to think about these kind of factors, and what drives up appreciation.
ReighborhoodScout is a neighborhood search engine for homebuyers and a full-service real estate resource center. We harness the largest database of neighborhood statistics ever created to reveal neighborhoods that meet criteria you choose!
StreetAdvisor is the easy way to find out what people REALLY think about the street they live in. It’s a place where people can finally voice their opinions about where they live, have lived or simply visited!
Use Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps to take a look at an area from a bird’s eye view. Google even has a street level view for some local areas. With these sites you can come up with your own take on what areas are expanding or growing and where. Want to know how far away a golf course, downtown or shopping is from the property you're researching, just pull up a map.
Real Estate Market Reports and Trends
It’s important to know what the real estate markets are like in certain areas of a state before investing. But it’s equally important to understand the market trends so you can anticipate the direction of the market in the future. Luckily, this type of information is readily available online.
For the following site, simply copy the link and then type in any state of your choosing after the final forward slash:
An example for Virginia would be: http://www.househuntnews.com/MCR/Virginia/
Here’s a good site for Texas:
Cost of Living Calculators
Now that you’re familiar with the real estate market and its trends for a certain area, you’ll need to know the cost of living as well. If you’re going to live in the investment property, it’s useful to know what your projected cost of living will be. This information is also critical if you want to rent your property to someone else but are not familiar with the area and don’t know how much rent to charge per month.
The dreaded T word—it’s one of those few things in life that’s certain. To learn detailed information about the taxes involved, the IRS is a good place to start:
See the world while living like a native. Enjoy the exciting world of Home Exchange while saving money you would spend on hotels and car rentals. But these sites can also be sources for buying property or trading properties.
FSBO - For Sale By Owner
Want to represent and sell your house yourself, try a few of these sites. Or, if you're looking to buy directly from a home owner these sites list homes for sale by owner. Cut out the middle man and save money.
Local News, Weather & Facts
Take a look at what the weather is like for an area of the whole year, get neighborhood reviews, see what kind of shopping is close to the properties your buying, gain some insight from the local news.
Try www.weather.com and type in the zip code for the area you’re interested in. You can also look up a city or area in www.Wikipedia.org, and the entry will often give you a good overview as well as several links that you can further explore. These sites below are also helpful with getting a sense of what a local neighborhood is like, take a look:
Localism - Premier spot on the Internet for accessing local real estate information provided by those who understand local markets the best, real estate professionals.
CitySearch Live like an insider with reviews of restaurants and neighborhood attractions.
Yelp.com Real people. Real reviews of local shopping and neighborhoods.
I'd also suggest pulling up the local newspaper website for the area your buying in and doing some research.
Other Useful Real Estate Sites
HotPads - Innovative map-based search, they're striving to give people the best communication platform for sharing information about available housing. They encourage people to post info about available apartments, rental houses, sublets, and roommate opportunities. They're motto: If you've got a place, there's someone out there who wants it.
Real Estate ABC - Home values and sales comparisons.
Housing Maps - Integration of Craigslist.com and Google Maps, allows you to view rentals and homes for sales in a wide range of cities.
Pop Smart - Independent real estate search engine. We crawl and index millions of homes for sale and other properties, then organize and display them on a slick Google Map interface.
Learn more: Real Estate News Before It's News