Real Estate Search Engines - A Home Buyer's Guide

Monday, 29 July 2013

In recent years, real estate search engines have exploded in both popularity and quantity. It seems that every time you turn around, there's a new real estate search engine being launched or announced.

The use of real estate search engines has also skyrocketed. People go online by the thousands every day, conducting real estate searches through websites like Yahoo, Trulia and the others listed below. This usage will only increase as new search engines emerge, and as existing engines become more advanced.

This article reviews some of the most popular real estate search engines available today. But before we get to those reviews, let's cover some quick terminology.

What's a Real Estate Search Engine?

Here's my informal definition of a real estate search engine: "Any website that allows consumers to search for real estate listings." I think that's a basic definition we can all agree upon. Of course, there are many different types of real estate search engine, but in their basic form they all match the definition above.

Popular Real Estate Search Engines

Here's a list and summary of some of the most popular real estate search engines online today (with popularity measured by prominence in the marketplace, website traffic, and general buzz).

REALTOR.com

This is probably the most popular real estate search engine, just because it has been around the longest. When you land on the home page of REALTOR.com, you're offered a variety of real estate-related information. But the primary element on their home page is, of course, their real estate search engine.

To begin, you simply enter a city and state, provide some qualifying information like price range and number of rooms, and then click "Go." Once you get to the actual home listings, you can sort them by price, number of rooms, etc.

One thing I've always liked about REALTOR.com is the way the results are presented. You can view 10 homes per page, with thumbnail photo and basic information. This lets you "eyeball" shop and weed out any homes that don't interest you right off the bat. That way, you only have to click the "learn more" link for homes that you've screened first. A lot of the newer real estate search engines are map-based, meaning you have to click on an icon to see the house and details. I prefer to see a lot of listings at a glance and then "drill down" as desired ... but that's just me.

HomePages

This website offers another map-driven approach to real estate search. As with most real estate search engines, you start the process by entering a city and state. After sitting through a map-zooming process that makes you feel like you're skydiving, you'll be asked for the usual follow-up parameters (price range, number of rooms, etc.). Properties for sale are presented as icons that you can click on to learn more about.

Personally, I didn't like the interface because it doesn't show as much data at a glace as other real estate search engines -- you have to sort of scroll around the map to find what you want, and that annoyed me. From my perspective, it seems to be another one of those websites that's so "slick" it's just plain hard to use. But that's just me!

Trulia

Trulia bills itself as delightfully smart real estate search. Their "About" page offers a more detailed description: "We are a real estate search engine that helps you find homes for sale and provides real estate information at the local level to help you make better decisions in the process."

From the home page, you simply enter a zip code to see real estate listings for that area. You can also refine your search by price range, number of rooms or bathrooms, etc.

Like many real estate search engines, Trulia is powered by Google Maps. Trulia has customized the Google application to show pushpin icons for each property listing, which adds a nice visual element to the search.

You can use Trulia's real estate search engine with or without an account, but if you sign up for a free account you'll be able to save your searches for future convenience. If you like Trulia and plan to use it often, I recommend creating an account. It will save you a lot of time on future visits because you won't have to enter your search parameters all over again (unless you want to).

Yahoo Real Estate

Yahoo's real estate search offers a lot of information in addition to property listings. You can also find information on schools and neighborhoods through their site. But this is an article on real estate search, so let's stick with that.

From the home page of Yahoo Real Estate, you can search for homes, apartments, or even home values. For homes, you simply enter the city and state and hit enter. You are then shown a map with icons representing homes for sale.

Hover your mouse over an icon and it will show the listing price. Click on the listing price, and it will pop up a bubble with street address, a thumbnail photo, and a "learn more" link. To get around the map, you simply click-and-drag with your mouse (as with MapQuest or similar mapping sites).

NeighborhoodScout

NeighborhoodScout is a different sort of real estate search engine. As the name implies, this website focuses more on neighborhoods than actual home listings. Here's how they describe themselves:

"NeighborhoodScout is a web-based patent-pending neighborhood search engine that uses neighborhood statistics to build neighborhood profiles that allow individuals and families to instantly find the best neighborhoods for them, in any part of the United States they choose."

So if you're relocating to a new area, this website might help you refine your search by narrowing it to a few select neighborhoods.

A Word of Caution

When using any real estate search engine, you need to understand they do not operate in "real time." The accuracy of a real estate search engine is determined by the age or "freshness" of their data, which varies from one search engine to the next.

Also, while a real estate search engine can be a helpful research tool, they do not take the place of a qualified real estate agent. If you are new to the real estate world, I strongly recommend that you have professional help when buying or selling a home.

* You may republish this article online if you retain the author's byline and the active hyperlinks below.