Who lives around the corner?
House hunting on the Internet? Now, it's easy to check out the neighbors and the neighborhood, too.
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Big cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Chicago, and Houston draw the most posts, Mr. Walker says. Negative posts are by far the most numerous, although it's possible to say nice things about neighbors and also request deletion of especially nasty posts.Skip to next paragraph
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Walker, who's shopping for a new place to live, plans to consult his site and others for guidance. "I can't imagine not looking online while looking for a home or an apartment," he says. "That's always going to be my first step."
Real-estate gurus caution that there are plenty of caveats about shopping for a house online. Satellite views of neighborhoods can be outdated. And information about home prices is sometimes misleading.
Zillow.com, for instance, says that its "zestimates" of home values, derived from a proprietary formula, are usually close to the ultimate sale prices. But Wyman and his wife, Elaine Worzala, discovered that the computers behind Zillow don't always know what's going on at street level.
The site listed their former home near San Diego as worth $500,000 more than it actually was, says Ms. Worzala. The site apparently calculated the price by evaluating home prices by ZIP Code. But it didn't realize that the homes east of a freeway, like hers, were farther from the beach and therefore less expensive.
Real-estate websites have done "a world of good" by allowing buyers to avoid being dependent upon real-estate brokers to show them available properties, Worzala says, "but you have to double-check things."
"In an online real-estate listing, professional photography can skew bad architecture and mask a multitude of contractor's sins, as can sparkling descriptions and even fudged square-footage figures," she says. "You've got to look at the house in real life, ask questions, and check out the neighborhood on foot."
Realtors can be helpful, too. "Some of them are real experts on the specific neighborhoods and have a lot of random knowledge that wouldn't come across in Zillow," says Rich Toscano, a real-estate columnist in San Diego.
In other words, house hunting – alas – can't entirely be accomplished while sitting on your couch with a laptop. To do it right, you'll still have to make real visits and talk to real people.