The Ultimate Guide to Searching Homes For Sale in Richmond VA
This post is dedicated to searching Homes For Sale in Richmond VA. Unlike the other sites that offer you homes for sale and claim to be the best search sites, we are going to break down all of the options for home search as well as hopefully provide you with some insider tips on best practices so that you will be searching like the pros search.
Know your databases
In the old days, there was one database – MLS (the Multiple Listing Service) and it was closed to the public. The Realtors curated and controlled the database and doled out the information inside in a piecemeal manner to justify our own existence. since the public did not have access and relied on agents to provide them with lists of homes for sale that met their criteria, they were forced early on to inject a realtor into the sales process, just to find out what was for sale.
Now, due to the rise of sites like Zillow, Trulia and realtor.com, information on homes for sale is pretty much everywhere. MLS still matters for sure, but not in the same way it used to and any inquiry in the Google bar for housing for sale will give you literally thousands of results instantaneously.
Here are a list of possible database for your search and the relative strength(s) of each:
When to Use Each?
When clients ask me about each database, I tend to tell them that the level of seriousness in search will determine the best site to use. Much in the same way the WebMD or LegalZoom can offer you some basic info on medicine or legal concepts, public facing portals can offer the same basic level of information.
As an example, I might go to WebMD for a sprained ankle or a sore back after a workout, but if I am having debilitating back spasms or my ankle is blue and I can’t put weight on it, a trip to the doctor is probably in order.
So knowing what each database does well will tell you which one to use and when.
Just Getting Started
For those just getting started and a general feel for the market is required, then the level of accuracy provided by Trulia or Zillow is probably fine. Similarly, if you just need to get a feel for values in one area of a city versus another, then Zillow/Trulia is fine.
Similarly, sites such as the one you are on (RichmndVAMLS.net) or other brokerage websites are also good for this purpose. Often times, agents will offer neighborhood narratives in great detail that can give you a real sense of what the area is like. Zillow and Trulia do have some great statistical tools but fall short of offering insight. This can be especially helpful if you are moving to unfamiliar marketplace or to a different type of home (like a condo or building a new home.)
Looking for Open Houses
Trulia and Zillow do a decent job of open houses and have largely replaced the classified ads as the primary source for which houses are open on any given weekend.
Serious Search (60-90 day window)
Use MLS. Use MLS. Use MLS. I cannot stress this enough.
Inventory conditions are extremely tight, especially in mature or ‘close-in’ neighborhoods where there is little home building. For a myriad of complex reasons that are difficult to fully explain but are related to data syndication and aggregation, the time lag or likelihood of a listing coming to marker and being missed by Zillow or Trulia is too high to risk. I cannot tell you the number of times I hear stories from clients that missed an opportunity to buy a home because they saw it a day or two too late (or not at all) because Zillow or Trulia missed it. Don’t be that person.
I hate the Automated Valuation Models (AVM’s)provided by Zillow and other sites. Now, I do not hate them for the reason most think (most feel that Realtors are somehow threatened by a computer algorithm doing our jobs.) No, I hate them because they are stated in absolute terms and no discussion is given to the confidence at which they are stated.
Now, the first thing to understand is that the AVM’s draw their data largely from tax records. As any agent will tell you, the tax records are about as accurate as you would expect a government agency to be. On a good day, tax records are ‘somewhat accurate’ and on a bad day, they are just plain ole wrong so to base any value on their data is suspect from the outset.
Furthermore, the ability to compare homogenous homes in suburban areas is far easier than in urban areas or rural areas where property values can vary widely. When you have 20 hoes that have sold in the past 12 months that are were built 7-10 years ago, by the same 3 builders on similar sized lots and constructed of similar materials, then you values are going to be better. But when you have 7 houses built 50 or more years ago with varying lot sizes, varying renovation levels, varying architecture and with undocumented additions, then you cannot expect the confidence in the valuation to be the same.
Zillow states its Zestimate in the same terms whether it is 99% or 59% sure of its valuation … and in my opinion, the practice is pretty irresponsible.
So when I see someone making a decision based on a Zestimate, I cringe. As I have said many times, using a Zestimate IN your analysis is fine but using a Zestimate AS your analysis is a really poor idea.
Now, as more sites emerge to try to capture search traffic, more AVM’s are being offered. And since each site uses a different valuation method, the estimates of values differ, demonstrating the fact that valuing property is extremely subjective. This is a good thing as it forces the public to acknowledge and question the differences in valuation methods. Thus, the general public is no longer placing absolute confidence in the Zillow estimates.
Sophistication of Search
Now, there is a difference between searching on one of the public facing search sites and searching in MLS. Most of these sites allow you to search by the normal criteria you would expect – price, size, beds, baths, age, schools and some type of mapping function, but that is about it. The search engines for the public facing sites are more like butter knives than laser scalpels and thus, the ability to really find value or execute complex ratio based searches are extremely limited.
There are literally hundreds of search fields that are available in MLS that are not available for search on the public facing search sites. In MLS, a seasoned agent can execute searches on different fields to really begin to find hidden value. One of my personal favorites is to query the remarks that only agents see (not shown to the public) to look for cues about seller motivation. Another favorite is to use the tax records to query minimum lot dimensions to show possible candidates for splitting off an extra lot.
So while the public does have access to far more information than in the past, the best tools for query and analysis are still only available to the agent community and their clients.