Jumpstart Your Property Search
There is no replacement for a knowledgeable real estate agent who knows the area and the market. Additionally, the power of today’s MLS technology can add value to any property search immediately. However, we want our buyers to also feel empowered to use other methods at their disposal.
Data: The good news is that there is an increasing amount available for buyers, and much of it is public. The bad news is that this can be intimidating, especially since other buyers are likely using it to their advantage. Here are several resources for you:
County Appraisal Districts: Free property searches are typically available on County Appraisal District websites (known as CADs). Here is an example for Hays CAD.
TAMU Real Estate Center: Loads of free data from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center!
GIS Data Files: These can be purchased or downloaded for free. They are software files that open in a free program like Google Earth, or more advanced GIS software for people who understand how to use it. Here is an example from Texas Tech.
Maps: For many buyers, time is a commodity they do not have and it’s not feasible to takes multiple weekends driving to available properties. This is especially true if you are in the market for a land purchase and there are potentially multiple counties with listings for you to consider. The digitization of maps has helped many buyers understand things about properties before visiting in person. Google Maps can be a great tool for buyers. You can log on and search by county, town, neighborhood, address or geographical feature to better understand your search area. For example, you can follow the line of a creek through a neighborhood to see which properties it passes through. Google Maps uses satellite imagery, so you can actually see which areas of the creek show deep water and which run dry.
Here are several other ways to use online maps:
Google Earth: A more in-depth way to use satellite imagery to understand property. You can try searching online for free files to download to add layers of data to your Google Earth (downloaded as .KML files), like here for Hays County.
FEMA Flood Maps: Check to see if a property lies within a flood zone.
USDA Soil Maps: The USDA offers an in-depth look at soil types that any person can browse on their website.
Personalization: Use the Internet to your advantage! Between the websites you visit, the acquaintances you make on social media, and the specifications your agent can provide through the MLS – your experience should be one that is personalized and efficient. The more you browse homes or properties online, the more advertisements will learn your behavior and be more useful. Maybe you’re looking at condos downtown and a specific real estate agency advertisement keeps following your site visits. Pay attention because more than likely this means they specialize in downtown living and can help. Alternately, leverage your time on social platforms to see what type of content your connections and network share. It’s a network and social experience you’ve personally built, so chances are there will be valuable content there. And most importantly, your agent will be able to tailor an MLS search specific to your interests and you’ll know every time a listing matches that profile.
Mobile: These days you can type an address or neighborhood into Google while driving by a property you like. Within seconds you can access public sites like Zillow or Trulia, you can get contact information for agents with listings in the area, or even view floor plans from available homes or units. As an agent, it is not uncommon to have your buyer send you property listings simply as they go about town on a Saturday or Sunday – all from their mobile device. Mobile smart phones also speed up the negotiation and contract process once a buyer is at a later stage. For example, a buyer who makes himself or herself available by phone is able to e-sign an offer more quickly and check messages from their agent at a moment’s notice. In a hot market like South Austin where listings can come and go in days, this sort of behavior matters.