There are five mistakes homebuyers make when searching for homes online that you need to avoid.

The first is using an agent simply based on a phone call from an inquiry you may have made online or on a search site. When using a home search engine such as Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com, if you ask a question about a particular home or click that you’re interested in that home, you’ll receive a call from a real estate agent. Don’t make a decision based exclusively on that phone call. Interview several agents and use someone who has your best interests in mind.

The second mistake is trusting values from home valuation sites. For example, Zillow has a tool on their site called a Zestimate. If someone’s looking at values in a particular neighborhood or they want to refinance their house, they’ll type in the address of a property and get back a Zestimate. The problem is Zillow is only using other homes within a particular radius and averaging those values together to formulate that Zestimate. It doesn’t have the ability to see what has sold in that neighborhood or know certain characteristics of a home that affect its value, like if it has an updated garage. To obtain an accurate value of a home, reach out to a real estate professional.

The third mistake is shopping for a home on inaccurate sites. By “inaccurate,” I mean that sometimes the bigger real estate search engines won’t update their sites as often as real estate professionals update theirs. This leads to buyers finding a home they like on one of these sites only to find out that it’s already under contract or it sold several weeks earlier. Make sure you search for a home on a website that offers real-time information so you don’t get your heart set on something that may no longer be available.

“To obtain an accurate home value, reach out to a real estate professional.”

The fourth mistake is using online mortgage calculators to obtain a potential payment on a house. While these are great tools to get an idea on a payment for a house, you should know that these calculators are only giving you payments based on principal and interest. There are other factors to consider, such as escrow payments, that get figured into what a real payment looks like. If your home is located in a flood zone, for example, that too would be figured into the monthly payment. Always talk to your local lender to get an accurate idea of what your mortgage will look like.

The fifth and final mistake is acquiring a mortgage through an Internet lender. We encourage you to work with a local lender whenever possible because they usually use local appraisers that know our market. Out-of-town lenders or Internet lenders tend to use appraisers who are unfamiliar with our neighborhoods and values, and that can complicate the loan process significantly.

If you have any questions about shopping for homes online or you have a topic in mind you’d like us to share in the future, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We look forward to talking with you soon.