How to search for a home: What every buyer needs to know
We are so blessed to be living in a time with internet access were information is freely shared. 20 years ago, you had to rely on a real estate agent to look through their Multiple Listings book to come up with a list of homes that met your basic criteria. Wandering through town looking for yard signs was a common practice. Today, everything is different!
I have shared with hundreds of clients the secrets to searching for homes and I have witnessed firsthand identical behavior in nearly every buyer. I am about to share with you how to search for a home without wasting time and money. The first thing you need to know is that real estate agents belong to a local Multiple Listings Service (MLS). Each MLS system covers a certain geographic area. I happen to belong to several different MLS providers, but my home MLS is MetroList. MetroList, like any MLS system, has strict rules about how homes are listed as well as how agents use the MLS to conduct business. As a home buyer, you need to know that it is against the MLS rules for an agent to list a home for sale and NOT put that home in the MLS. That means that if an agent agrees to list a home, that home must be put in the MLS immediately. There is an exception to this rule, but the agent must submit proper documentation to the MLS as to why they are requesting an exception. What this means to you is that, with rare exception, all homes will be listed in the local MLS. So now, where do you suppose you should go to find the most complete, up to date list of homes for sale in your area? That’s right, your local MLS!
But you may ask, “What about Zillow, Redfin, Truila, Realtor.com or my agent’s website?” Truth be told, almost all real estate websites take a feed from the local MLS. That means that all third-party websites are simply taking information out of the MLS, but at a delayed rate. I have seen some third-party sites be as much as a month behind the MLS.
So what should you do? Your agent has the ability to give you access to the same MLS system I use. In MetroList, it is referred to as a “Client Portal”. The Client Portal is probably one the best kept secrets as well as one of my most favorite tools. I interview my clients on a few of the basic objective parameters (minimum bedrooms, minimum baths, garage size, and maximum price). The search can be set up by town, area, school district, and even by custom drawn maps. The secret is to use broad parameters. It is always best to have too many homes to choose from rather than too few. Once the Portal is set up, I simply send an invitation to my clients where they view the homes that are matched to their search. My clients are free to save or reject the homes in their cart as well as create their own custom searches. The great part of the Portal is that all my client needs to do is to send me a text or email letting me know they want to see the homes in their “Saved” folder and I take care of the rest.
This system works great! It is real time information with the most up to date list possible. You can even program the Portal to email you the minute a home that matches your criteria comes on the market or has a price drop into your range.
There are only two ways a home will not make it into MLS. The first way is if an agent applied for an exception. This is usually only done on multi-million dollar homes belonging to someone famous. The other exception is if an out of the area agent lists a home. Sometimes a seller will decide to list with an agent that is from a different MLS system. This was common during the housing crisis when unsuspecting home owners would fall victim to a “loan modification specialist”. Often these “specialists” were hundreds of miles away and were only interested in listing homes, which they did, but in the wrong MLS. These unlisted homes will occasionally show up on third party search engines like Zillow or Realtor.com and not in the local MLS.
I will warn you that it is common for a buyer to look at all the homes in the Portal and decide that, “There must be more homes out there!” That buyer will drive all over town looking for yard signs and hunt through every real estate search engine out there. The truth is, buyers that do this will usually come up with a rather lengthy list of homes that didn’t make it into their portal. 99.9% of the time the homes the buyer found are either already a pending sale, priced outside of their budget, too small, or already sold. In the hundreds of homes I have sold, I have only had one client find a suitable home that was not in the local MLS. It was a short sale that was listed by an out of the area agent.
If you are looking for a home and would like to have your own Client Portal. Just send me an email with your basic parameters. Include the following:
- Maximum search price
- Minimum bedrooms
- Minimum bathrooms
- Minimum garage size
- Pool – is it mandatory to have one or not have one?
- Area – I can search by County, zip code, town, or custom map by street. (I don’t recommend school district searches because that relies on proper input by the listing agent).
- I can also include or exclude homes by year built, roof type, siding type, foundation, and a host of other parameters.