"Once upon a time, house hunting meant perusing local newspapers and being led through properties by a real-estate agent. Nowadays, most home buyers head straight to their computers: A record 90% searched online this year, up from 65% a decade ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. Trouble is, homes listed for sale online aren’t always actually available."
The best advise for house hunting online is to use the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for your area. For the West Michigan area the MLS is Southwestern Michigan Regional Information Center or SWMRIC. This is the most accurate and up to date site you can use to search for a home. If you have an agent, your agents website would also be a good place to look since most agents sites pull the information directly from the MLS. If you do not use the MLS and try third-party sites such as Trulia and Zillow you may run into a few frustrating issues.
One issue you many in counter using a third-party listing site is old, outdated information. You may find listing showing up as active when in fact they are no longer available. This can be caused by sites not being updated or Realtors not updating their listings on third party sites. Avoid wasting your time reviewing homes that are no longer for sale by using the MLS or a site that uses an IDX (Internet Data Exchange) like Broker Reciprocity.
Another issue is that some of these third-party sites offer estimated pricing for homes. Buyer and Seller see this as a way to figure out what to offer or ask for in buying/selling a home but these numbers can be greatly misleading and create confusion. The suggested prices on some third-party sites are not accurate "Trulia and Zillow, for instance, say they pull these prices from county recorders’ offices and from regional firms in the U.S. that track sales data. Yet, a refinance, for instance, may appear as a sales transaction if a county mistakenly registers it as such; in that case, the mortgage amount the homeowner received sometimes significantly less than the value of the home can be is listed online as a previous sales price. It is best to consult a local real estate agents or consider having their home appraised to get a more accurate valuation if considering selling."
Some sites also feature days on the market counter to tell you how long the home has been for sale. This information can also have inaccuracies. "On some sites, the number of on-sale days are counted from the day when the posting went live on that site — which could be days or weeks after it first hit the market. Separately, a property that’s been listed online for months can get removed only to reappear a few weeks later as a newly for-sale property. (It can also happen if a new listing agent takes over.) Such errors can have huge ramifications for buyers. They’re more likely to make lowball offers on homes that have been languishing on the market for months, while they’re more likely to be aggressive with a property that’s just come on the market. In the latter case, the buyer may put a full-price offer on it."
It is best practice to contact a local real estate agent. For more information on buying or selling a waterfront home contact the Andrea Crossman Group by calling 616-355-6387. Happy house hunting!
Some excerpts from article on Wall Street Journal Market Watch