The Virtual House Hunt

By: Katie Austin

HouseAre you in the process of, or thinking about, buying a house? Not sure where to start? What if I were to tell you that you can start looking without having to talk to a real estate agent until you are absolutely sure that you are ready? It’s true! There is so much information available online that you can take the pressure off of house hunting until you are ready to take the first step.

My husband and I spent the last three years looking for a new house. We were in no way ready to buy a house, since we knew that selling our first house would have to happen first. But, we thought, why not drive by houses currently for sale to get an idea of the neighborhood, the type of homes available and the cost? It’s like window shopping, but in the real estate market.

House for saleSo, we took house hunting to the next level as we used our GPS navigation system, email, the internet and our car to find our current house. During my chemotherapy treatments in the summer of 2010, I had both good and bad days. Most of the good days came the weekend before my next treatment, so my husband and I would go out for long Sunday (and sometimes Saturday) drives, mapping out 8-10 houses we found on the internet that we might be interested in. It really took the pressure off of us until we knew we were ready to take the next step.

If you would like to start looking for homes without making a commitment, the first step you need to take is to sign up for email notifications from a real estate website so that you will receive updates when a new home gets added, or an existing property’s price or details change. A real estate agent may contact you to set up an appointment, but you can just let them know that you are not ready yet.

AppNext, create an account with one or two online services. We used Zillow and Trulia. Each have free mobile apps, which we used heavily. I need both hands and feet to count the number of times I used these apps from my iPad to read about available properties. You can set up filters (price range, square footage, number of bedrooms, location, etc.) to locate homes that match your criteria. You can also pull up a map to see where available homes are located. You simply select a house icon and it brings up property information such as pictures, price change history and much more. It’s like visiting the property but you are doing so from the comfort of being at home 🙂 It can’t get much easier than that!

Finally, when you are ready, reach out to a real estate agent you can trust. Our real estate agent (and friend), Tracy Vinson, is wonderful and we are beyond pleased with our home buying/selling experiences. (If you are ready to take the next step or have questions, reach out to her at When we were ready to buy our house, we gave her the areas and specific houses we were interested in visiting in person, and she took care of the rest. We continued to use our house hunting tools and with Tracy’s advice, the long wait paid off as we found and eventually bought the house we will grow old in! :-).

Have you used any of the online tools mentioned? Are there others you have used that were helpful? If you have questions, comments or suggestions, post them here and we will get a discussion going.

Wishing everyone a wonderful day and happy house hunting!

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