How (and where) to buy a house online

Websites and apps can speed up (or slow down) the home-buying process. Here's a list of some of the best and worst sites for buying a home online.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
A view of a house for sale is seen in Los Angeles in this February 24, 2010 file photo. For some, searching online for a new home can save time and money, Colley writes.

Still think the housing market is in a slump? Realtor Magazine begs to differ. According to its research, houses are flying off the market in some areas:

  • San Francisco, Calif. – 45 days on the market (median)
  • Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash. – 45 days
  • Bakersfield, Calif. – 44 days
  • Fresno, Calif. – 43 days
  • Anchorage, Alaska – 43 days
  • Denver, Colo. – 33 days
  • Oakland, Calif. – 24 days

If you live in one of those markets, you’ll need to hustle to find a house before someone else snatches it up. If you live outside of those markets, you’ve got a little more time – about 84 days on average, says the magazine.

Home-buying websites (and their apps) may be speeding up that process. They’ve got loads of listings, tons of photos, and easily sorted databases that could save you time. But in reality, some are a waste of time. We checked out the biggest…

1. Zillow

Zillow is my favorite home-browsing site, if only for the sheer volume of information available. You get listings, mortgage rates, advice columns, and local info. In my area, they have more listings than any site mentioned here. They contain photos, information about the property, the number of days it’s been listed on Zillow, and the selling price. And best of all, Zillow estimates your monthly mortgage payment in the listing – so I don’t have to do the math before I think, “Whoa, I can’t afford that.”

Zillow also has apps for Android, Android tablet, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, and Windows Phone.

2. Trulia

If you browse the Sunday home listings in your local paper, then Trulia’s layout will look familiar. The listings are posted down the front page, starting with the newest. You can sort them by the usual ways – size, location, and price, for example – but Trulia also has a few unique search features:

  • Type of listing – sort by price reductions, newest listings, and upcoming open houses
  • Foreclosure type – sort by houses under a notice of default, those going to auction, and real estate owned property
  • Keywords – sort by anything you want

The only problem I found with Trulia was that the site automatically pulled my location – and missed it by about 40 miles.

Trulia also has an app for the iPhone.

3. Homes.com

In my opinion, the layout of Homes.com is its best feature. The listings are posted in a grid, with the two most important things prominently displayed: a photo and the price. In fact, this was one of the few sites that showed large enough photos on the home page that I didn’t have to open the listing to see if I liked the house.

Of course, if you want more information, Homes.com has that too. You can search by specifics such as listing type, year built, size, and features.

Homes.com also has apps for Android, Android tablet, iPad, iPhone, and Windows Phone. They also have a mobile website accessible on any smartphone.

4. HomeFinder.com

HomeFinder.com had a few features I liked. For example, every listing shows information about the neighborhood, like the percentage of renters vs. homeowners, nearby schools, and recent tax assessments. But I couldn’t get past the ads – multiple ads on every page. And their mortgage estimate info links to a single mortgage company.

HomeFinder.com also has apps for Android and iPhone. There’s also a mobile website for smartphones.

5. ChoiceofHomes.com

ChoiceofHomes.com is an ironic name, considering that other sites found more than 100 listings in my ZIP Code – and this site found only one. And they’re the only one of these sites without an app.

Those are my five favorite (and least favorite) home-buying sites, and while they may help you find a house, you’ll still need to do another search for a mortgage. 

Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities and around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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