This story is a sponsored post from Better.com and was not created with the Money editorial team.
You have your sights set on your dream pad. But the open houses, the long drives, the small talk with real estate agents — sometimes it feels like a job of its own, except one for which you’re paying and not earning.
In the last several years, many things have made finding your picturesque new home online easier. Real estate apps mean you can discover an ideal property with just a few clicks. You can also learn a lot of information about the property very quickly — but discerning what’s good and what’s not, is critical.
“Utilizing digital services for home browsing can definitely be helpful and entertaining, but I always say take all that you see online with a grain of salt,” says Miami-based real estate agent Demi Lee Antelo. “We've all been 'catfished' at one point or another online, whether it be in dating or buying a bike. The same goes for real estate.”
Here are 3 essential rules to keep in mind when finding that dream home online.
1. Be skeptical
Online real estate apps have transformed the real estate industry — but of course red flags exist in the app-driven real estate universe.
“Sometimes photos that are chosen to market a property won't do the property justice, meaning it actually shows way better in person,” Antelo says. “Or they make the property look way more impressive than it truly is. There is nothing like being able to walk a property, feel the flow of a house and physically visualize the usage of a space.”
And old-school problems sometimes apply to the new-school way of homebuying. “I have also noticed that there are some sellers, whether it’s a listing by owner or listing agents, who get lazy when it comes to inputting the property details,” Antelo notes. That could include omitting a basic description or the fine print about taxes and upgrades — crucial details when you’re taking a big leap by purchasing a property.
2. Get an agent that can assist with making the home a reality
Tech, though, can be a modern-day blessing for pursuing that lush backyard. And not just for feeding future home fantasies. Digital homebuying companies like Better have enabled millions to narrow down the home options that most appeal to them, and make the most financial sense. Better Mortgage can help you find an interest rate that’s right for you and Better Real Estate can connect you with a real estate expert who provide customers with no-nonsense advice. And unlike agents associated with more traditional brick-and-mortar real estate companies, Better Real Estate Agents take 0% commission from real estate transactions. Their agents help you target exactly what you want without being hungry for a big commission. In certain states, a 1.5% fee (compared to 3% standard industry fee) is charged to list homes with Better Real Estate but this cost is not an agent commission.
And there’s no higher benefit, according to Antelo, than “being able to speak to someone who’s actually representing the seller to be able to ask all of the important questions.” Consider shopping around for a home online “like shopping online for clothes. A home may look one way on the screen, in the photos, staged with the necessary furniture, but you'll never know for sure if it's the right fit until you are physically there.” It also helps if you have someone you trust working with you — someone who’s physically familiar with the space.
3. Stick to trusted sources
“Buying a home isn't just buying the house itself, but also the area, the neighborhood, the lifestyle that the property has to offer,” Antelo says. Online homebuying can be a great “first impression,” she advises, but remember that whatever home you buy, ultimately you will have to live there. Beware of scammers, stick to trusted sources and agents, and you’ll be likelier to end up with a piece of property you not only love, but which also turns out to be a smart investment.
Shopping for real estate doesn’t have to be so exhausting after all. “Take advantage of having someone representing you who does this full-time, who knows how to negotiate, who knows how to write up a strong offer, who can help you figure out if a property is overpriced and by how much,” Antelo adds. These days, online homebuying is an essential way to view the aesthetics of the kinds of places in which you’d like to live. But a wise homebuyer knows there’s more to the process than that.
“So make sure,” Antelo recommends, “you get all the support you can.”