When you're ready to buy a home, the first thing you want to do is start shopping for homes online. It's the best way to look at new listings, styles, features, amenities and prices in the privacy of your home and without talking to a real estate agent.
You can go to third-party real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia, or to real estate industry-endorsed Realtor.com and search for homes. You can visit city sites like HAR.com in Houston, which is composed of real estate association members' listings. There are home search sites run by MLSs, franchisors like Re/Max and Realogy, and brands like Berkshire-Hathaway and Ebby Halliday, as well as those run by individual brokers and their agents.
You can even search homes that aren't listed by brokers or agents. Browse bank-owned homes on Hud.gov or bid via online auction at Hudzu.com. Homes for sale by their owners can be found at Forsalebyowner.com or Owners.com. Builders list their models and spec homes at sites like Move.com and NewHomesGuide.com.
The point is you can spend just as much time shopping for housing sites as you can looking for a home. With so many choices, you may believe that you're seeing all the listings that are available for sale, but you'd be wrong.
Builders don't list pre-owned homes. HUD doesn't list equity homes. For- sale -by- owner sites don't list broker listings. Not all for-sale-by-owner homes are online. And many builders only show models and building plans on their own sites.
In short, there's not a single website that has all the listings available in your area for sale. Not one. Nada.
And what you do find online may not be up to date. Third-party listing feeds may not have refreshed data, which means you could be drooling over a home that's already been sold.
Avoiding real estate agents seems to be a sport for buyers, and it's one of the reasons why there are so many places to look for homes online. But sooner or later, you're going to have to refine your search.
You're going to need a real estate broker. That's where listings originate. Real estate brokers own their listings. They have the right to choose where to advertise their listings, which means they can agree or disagree to put their listings on other sites besides their own.
As far as the hierarchy goes, real estate associations, MLSs, and agents work for brokers. Lead generation companies can't get listing feeds from MLSs or brokers without permission from brokers.
Brokers also have the power to decide whether or not to include FSBO and builder homes on their MLS's listing feed, because FSBO sellers and builders don't guarantee sales commissions to brokers.
Recognizing that brokers offer the greatest pool of buyers, nine out of ten home sellers list their homes with a licensed broker, not a website. Even HUD lists foreclosures with approved brokers and won't allow HUD homes to sell to buyers unless they're also represented by an approved broker.
In other words, looking at listings online can be a lot of fun, but if you are serious about buying, the most expedient way to shop for a home and learn what's available in your market is to hire a real estate broker or a broker's agent.