What to Look for When Browsing Home Listings Online

Any home listing will tell you how many bedrooms and bathrooms are in the home and the seller’s asking price for the home.

However, online home listings can provide you with much more information than that. The information revealed in a home listing online can tell you a great deal more about a home than a paper listing before you ever see it in person. For that matter, an online home listing can help you decide whether it is even worth scheduling a viewing.

While some online home listings do a great job of authentically representing the home to the kinds of buyers who would legitimately be interested in living there, others fall into one of two categories. Either they exaggerate the home’s features to make a property sound like a better deal than it is, or they simply fail to execute on the factors that make for a great home listing. In either case, you can help yourself greatly to sort through all these possibilities by knowing what to look for when you browse home listings online.

The Basics

The first things to look for in a home listing, whether online or off, are always the basics. Besides the number of beds and baths, this also includes:

  • The square footage of the home.
  • Cost per square foot.
  • The lot size of the property.
  • The year the home was built and the architectural style.
  • Heating and cooling systems, including air conditioning.
  • Flooring and roofing material.

Note whether the home has a fireplace and comes with appliances like a washer/dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, refrigerator or microwave. Also note whether the home has a patio, deck or porch.

Photos

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a real estate photo may be worth a thousand or more. No amount of description can substitute for a full-color photo when it comes to visualizing the home advertised in a listing. An online home listing should have plenty of such photos displaying all the rooms in the house, ideally from different angles, as well as the exterior of the home from all sides, its orientation to the road and the scope of the yard. If any of these photos are absent, it is worth wondering why. While an omission of certain photos could be merely an oversight, and an omission of any photos altogether could be the result of a simple technical issue. It could also reflect a problem with that part of the home or lot that might make it less desirable. Photo factors to look for in an online home listing besides how many photos there are and how much of the home is represented include the following:

  • The angle – Odd angles might suggest an effort to make a room or yard look larger or crop out an element the seller does not want you to see.
  • The ratio of outdoor to indoor photos – If there are too many outdoor photos preceding the indoor ones, there may be something wrong with the house. If there are no outdoor photos at all, the yard may not be desirable.
  • Orange dates in the lower right corner – These indicate the property is bank-owned, such as through a foreclosure.
  • Wide-angle lenses – You can often tell a photo is taken with a wide-angle lens by the way the image seems stretched out. In a real estate photo, this can indicate an effort to make a space look bigger than it really is.
  • Photos that do not match the listing – If there is a discrepancy between the photos and the description in the listing, you will want to contact the agent to find out which is accurate.

Straight Talk

Straight talk succinctly and accurately describes a home in plainspoken terms. The opposite of straight talk is sales talk, which is manufactured talk designed not for accuracy, but to make a sale. As you browse home listings online, read between the lines to determine whether you are reading a straightforward description of a property or a sales pitch designed to appeal to your desires. The square footage of a room, for example, tells you exactly how big it is. “Cozy” tells you it may feel too small to some people. Similarly, a house described as “rustic” may be constructed of fine hardwood using older building techniques or it may require heavy renovation. Facts are invaluable and indisputable. With opinions, you always have to consider the source.

Mapping Tools

Besides convenience, online home listings can give you something many paper listings cannot offer. Online home listings can offer you access to mapping tools. Thanks to satellite technology and companies like Google, most online home listings these days are linked to mapping tools that allow you to explore added information on a home that the listing does not tell you:

  • Google Earth: Can give you a bird’s eye view of the home, the property and the surrounding area. You can see the orientation of the home to the yard, the street and the neighbors. You can see how built up the area around the home may or may not be.
  • Google Street View: Can be used to see what the view outside your front door would be like, including down the road in both directions and across the street. It can give you an idea of the traffic and activity level in front of your home, and it can show you what the front of your home looks like from the perspective of the street.
  • Google Maps (basic road map feature): Can show you how you would access local facilities and features and how you would get to and from work and other places you commonly visit. It can also give you a better sense of the neighborhood.
  • Walk Score: Is best for people looking to live in a more urban area. You can find the home’s Walk Score and a display of local businesses surrounding the home and proximity by foot. A home with a high Walk Score has a lot of walking access to local facilities whereas a home with a low Walk Score does not.

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