This article was originally published in The Galveston County Daily News on 2/9 as part of my weekly 2019 column.
It's all on the internet. Admit it.
Shopping online for a new house is amazing. You can do it late at night. Beautiful rooms, manicured lawns, decks with a beach view. Browsers beware: Those delicious listings may show you the perfect house, but they may not show the entire picture.
That cute 1920s bungalow a block from the beach? It might be surrounded by construction for a new hotel and garage. That charming carpenter Victorian in the San Jacinto neighborhood? Charming in the photos, but there might be untouched plumbing and wiring behind those perfect tongue and groove walls. The under priced condo with the wonderful view and amenities? Imagine your pain when you call an agent and learn it sold weeks ago.
Please. Take some care, and set realistic expectations.
Step one: What are your top 10 wants in your new house? Do you really need three bedrooms and three baths? Will you be living here full-time or part-time? How important is a garage? How much are you really willing to spend on maintenance and insurance?
Step two: With that list in hand, start your online browsing. Keep in mind what the websites you use can actually do.
You wouldn't read last month's People magazine for the most recent celebrity gossip, would you? So you shouldn't use real estate sites which show old information.
Get your latest Galveston listings from TheGalvestonMLS.com or Realtor.com.
TheGalvestonMLS.com is a primary source. That means it contains the most recent listing information for area homes. Realtor.com pulls data every 15 minutes from the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) databases across the country where Realtors have posted listings for lease or sale. That means these sites are more accurate than Trulia and Zillow, which update less often.
Your Galveston Realtor may have a direct feed from the MLS on their brokerage website, which makes it a good choice as well.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Yes, but that picture may also hide rotten wood and ancient wiring. Photography is used to catch your attention and make you want to learn more about a property. So, as natural as it is to focus on the photos, pay attention to the property description and other key features.
Every listing should have a “property details” section specifying an idea of when the house was built, price per square foot, and how many days the house has been on the market. Don't count on any of that information being completely accurate-data feeds aren't always correct. That's when you contact your Galveston Realtor.
The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the area and many will know details and histories of the properties. If the listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know.
It comes down to this: real estate websites are pretty much the CliffsNotes for an area. They show you active listings, sold properties, home asking prices and sometimes an estimate of sales prices. That information can give you a basic working knowledge, but it won't be complete.
To gather complete facts on the house you may be eyeing, talk to your Galveston Realtor. Your agent should know the neighborhood, if not the actual block.
Your agent is the best source for detailed information on a specific property and may have even known the owners. That information helps keep you away from houses with serious issues and more likely will save you the effort of visiting a random listing and wasting beach time. Use your agent. That's what we are for.
Remember, shopping on your computer or mobile device in the middle of the night can be considered a good way to get an idea of possibilities. Make notes and then call your Galveston Realtor the next day.