The real estate market is in trouble and housing prices are plummeting. In other words, it is a great time to buy a house.
That's why we've compiled a list of real estate search sites and examined how well they can help you find your next home.
If you're looking to find homes, but you don't know where to start, DotHomes might be it. It's not the best real estate search site in this roundup, but it does a fine job of taking listings from across the Web and getting them to you quickly.
DotHomes sports a simple design, but I had issues with it. Its catalog view of all the listings is great and it provides basic information about the properties, but putting Google Maps with all the listings' locations above the individual homes makes little sense and I found myself scrolling up and down to figure out where they were. Worse, the site's filtering tools are placed next to the map, which meant I was forced to once again scroll to the top of the page just to narrow my search results.
If you want the most listings, DotHomes is the ideal destination. After inputting "New York City" into the site's search box, it returned 48,000 listings. That tally easily bested any other service in this roundup by thousands of properties. Thinking it must be a mistake, I tried my search again with quotations around "New York, NY" to ensure that's what it was searching for and it returned the same number of results. When I narrowed my search to individual ZIP codes and suburbs around the country, DotHomes continued to provide me with the most results. It was outstanding.
It should be noted that DotHomes doesn't have its own listings pages. Instead, it delivers search results from realty sites around the Web. Once you click on a property listing, you'll be brought to different realty Web sites. I found that annoying.
Realtor.com's page is cluttered. It features a prominent search box, which is nice, but that's flanked by advertisements, featured listings in areas across the U.S., and some tools to help you in your real estate search that are only somewhat useful. That said, its search results pages are better designed and feature all the necessities--filter and display preferences--above and to the side of the listings. The listings pages are outstanding and feature the property's description and most importantly, a Live Maps display showing exactly where the property is located.
Although Realtor.com is a major site, I was a little disappointed with its search results. After inputting "New York City" into the search field, it only returned a little over 18,000 results. When I input a specific New York ZIP code--10012--it only returned 8 results. That's much fewer than the results derived from DotHomes. It was even beat badly by DotHomes in every suburban search I performed.
Realtor.com's listings pages were outstanding and featured all the information you'd expect from a real estate Web site, like mortgage calculators, interest rate finders, school locators, and tax information. The wealth of knowledge makes Realtor.com a fine destination if you don't mind fewer listings, but want more information.
Terabitz is a neat site that tries to make searching for real estate listings different than competing services. And although it achieves that goal, it will take some getting used to if you're accustomed to sites like Trulia or Realtor.com.
I was really impressed with the design of Terabitz. After inputting an area, the site returns all the listings it can find from across the Web, but also includes a series of tabs above those listings that provide links to services that can help you find information about the area where you're considering moving. Its "Local" tab features links to all the airports, hospitals, restaurants, and other places in a given area and displays them all on a Google Maps display to the left of the listings.
When I started searching for listings in Terabitz, I was disappointed with the number of results it returned. In fact, just under 3,000 listings were displayed when I searched for New York City properties. When I drilled down into one ZIP code, it found just three listings. Unfortunately, Terabitz isn't too capable when you want to search for suburban listings, either. Unlike Realtor.com or DotHomes, Terabitz had trouble finding listings in some areas I searched for and returned no results when others returned hundreds of listings.
My biggest complaint with the Terabitz search isn't the number of listings, though. Instead, I was disappointed with how long it took for the results page to load. It took longer than any other service in this roundup to deliver results and I found myself performing two searches on Trulia in the time it took to load a single Terabitz result page.
Trulia may not feature the best design in this roundup--Terabitz gets that award--but it's designed almost as well. The home page features a prominent search box, a "news feed" for those who want to see new listings in areas they've searched for in the past, and links to foreclosure listings in areas where they have hit hardest. Its search results pages boast the same filter tools you'll find in sites like Realtor.com and its Google Maps display at the top right of the page makes locating properties easy. Even better, Trulia listings pages show Google Street View displays instead of maps, so you can see exactly what the building you want to buy looks like before you go there. It's a simple addition, but also the best feature on the site.
I was a little underwhelmed by the number of listings Trulia returned. When I searched for New York City properties, it found over 10,000 listings and when I narrowed it down to just one ZIP code, it found almost 200 listings. It doesn't come anywhere close to the number of listings you would find on DotHomes.
Much like Realtor.com, Trulia found a slew of suburban properties in disparate parts of the country and unlike Terabitz, returned those results quickly. Suffice it to say that searching on Trulia was a treat.
But Trulia's offerings go beyond listings. The site's "Stats and Trends" page is an outstanding resource to find out about the community you're thinking of moving to and its "Advice and Opinions" page will come in handy when you're ready to buy your home.
Trulia is a great service to find listings and learn about communities, but it's also the easiest to use out of any real estate search service. It's the best real estate search tool in this roundup. Period.
Some of you are probably wondering why I decided not to include Zillow in this roundup. The answer is quite simple: I consider it a research tool, rather than a standard real estate search site.
I know that you can search for homes for sale on the site and it boasts thousands of listings, but anyone who has used the site knows that it's difficult to find homes thanks to a cluttered Live Maps display. That said, Zillow is extremely useful when searching for the value of a home.
In my own research for a home, I use a site like Trulia to find a property and perform better research on it with the help of Zillow. So, yeah, maybe it's a real estate search site in one sense, but I think it's a much better research tool. In fact, it's the best real estate research tool on the market.