Tips for Online House Hunting

October 14, 2020

Housing apps have changed the way people are buying and selling homes. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, online platforms are making it possible for buyers to safely search for homes in a virtual environment. Today, you can learn plenty about a property and even get a 360-degree tour without ever stepping foot inside.

There are eight basic steps to the homebuying process. If you’re starting to look at homes on the market, it means you’re already on step four! Here are some tips to help you stay on track as you move forward with your home search.

Work with an agent

When you’re searching for a real estate agent, it's important to find someone who understands you and your needs. While online websites can offer a variety of search options, on-the-ground agents typically know the ins and outs of neighborhoods and are often in the know about specific listings. Consider doing an online search for agents locally or in the area where you’re planning to move.

Tip: The housing data on real estate sites can become outdated quickly. If you find a home you’re interested in, your agent can verify the listing and schedule a viewing.

Stay within your budget

One of the first things you should do before you start researching homes is to determine how much you can afford. Most real estate websites and apps will allow you to search listings based on price. Some even have calculators that allow you to estimate the monthly mortgage payment and other expenses like interest, taxes and insurance.

Your budget typically depends on four factors: income, expenses, credit and cash on hand. Most lenders recommend spending no more than 28% of your monthly gross (pre-tax) income on your mortgage payment. Use the Freddie Mac Home Calculator to estimate your homebuying budget.

Tip: Don’t skip the pre-approval process. A pre-approval letter does double duty: it states how much your lender is willing to lend you and shows the seller that you are a serious buyer. Here's how to get one.

Make a wish list

Knowing what you’re looking for in a home can save you a lot of time in your search. Most housing sites let you filter results, so you only see homes that meet your criteria. Consider things like:

  • number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • type of home (single family, condo, townhome, etc.)
  • amenities
  • preferred school or school district
  • neighborhood or zip code

Some real estate apps even have a feature that will allow you to see the home’s surroundings directly in the app, which is especially helpful if you’re unable to visit in-person.

Tip: If you can’t physically explore the neighborhood, use a virtual tool like Google Maps to check the view from above. Research what development plans – if any – are in the works. Also check for nearby noise issues like train tracks, roads, or high traffic businesses. These could cause disruptions and influence your decision to buy or not.

Recognize what's fixable (and what's not)

Photo angles, staging and lighting can make spaces in a home appear different online compared to in-person. Read the listing carefully and note important facts like dimensions, amenities, square footage and layout.

If there are cosmetic things (wallpaper, carpeting, bathroom fixtures, etc.) that you don’t love, remember that those can be changed as time and your finances allow. 

Tip: If you're going to buy a house that needs repairs, make sure you can handle the work required. A fixer-upper can be a great investment, but if there are major issues, it may not be worth the headache. Learn the importance of a home inspection.

For more ideas like these, read 5 Tips for Mobile House Hunting. For more information about buying a home, visit My Home by Freddie Mac®.