6 Interesting Ways Technology Can Help You Buy a Home

by Carrie Kirby on 2 March 2015 (0 comments)

In the early dot-com days, my husband and I used an online real estate agency to buy our first home. I liked the idea of a Palm Pilot-toting agent who would keep me updated via e-mails and an online calendar. I felt pretty cutting edge.

That was in 2000. The Internet today offers an array of even more amazing capabilities. Whether you use a traditional or an online agency, using the web is a helpful, even fun, part of your homebuying process. In fact, in a recent survey commissioned by Discover Home Loans, more than three quarters of recent homebuyers reported that technology made them smarter buyers, and nearly half said tech tools helped them save money.

Based on my experience, the Internet has changed homebuying for the better in at least six key ways.

1. Neighborhood Reconnaissance

When moving to a new neighborhood or city, the web can help you zoom in on target neighborhoods before you visit. According to the survey, 72% of homebuyers used online maps to explore neighborhoods.

When my family considered an international or cross-country move three years ago, I started my research by visiting official city websites and reading Wikipedia entries about neighborhoods.

I also looked at each area's Walk Score, a commute report that shares the different transportation types and what is “walkable,” checked police department crime maps, and evaluated potential public schools for my children if we lived there.

Finally, I used Google Street View to virtually stroll down the street around the property. I eliminated several properties based on Street View, which can provide more of a feel for the environment than any statistics or neighborhood association description.

2. Agent Search

Back in 2000, my online real estate agency assigned us an agent without any input from us. Nowadays, similar to an online dating site, you can select an agent with sites such as Redfin. Or if you're using one of the still-dominant traditional agencies, you can read the agent's profile on their agency site or on Realtor.org. In addition, Trulia, an online real estate site for homebuyers and sellers, also provides reviews and allows you to see an agent's track record.

Past homebuyers can serve as great resources as well. You can reach out to your Facebook or other social network friends for recommendations, or ask other local buyers for tips and advice in an online forum.

3. Property Search

The number-one way the Internet has changed home shopping is by making the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) available to prospective buyers online. Browsing online listings has become so easy that many of us get sucked into spending too much time doing it. In fact, 67% of respondents in Discover Home Loan's survey — and 78% of millennials — reported that looking at listings became addictive.

Before, homebuyers depended on their agent to share and search for potential homes, but now you can browse homes instantly yourself by using sites such as MLS.com, Zillow.com, Redfin.com or from a number of home search sites.

The survey also found that while most homebuyers still work with agents, technology is helping us become more and more involved in the homebuying process, something that rings true from my own experience. Nearly half of buyers felt they were better at finding potential properties than their agents.

4. Price Research

This is another area in which shoppers used to be more dependent on agents. A great agent will still have the best data about trending neighborhood prices to help you make the best offer, but you also can search recent home sales in the area yourself by checking the local newspaper website or sites like Zillow.com for this data.

5. Mortgage Application

I always use Bankrate.com to check prevailing rates before applying for a home loan. Many mortgage lenders also list the most recent home loan rates if you want to do your own research.

My own bank’s website was also helpful and made it easy to gather the personal financial information needed to apply for a home loan. By logging into my account, I was able to print out balances, past activity and anything else needed. I was also able to save these pages as PDFs and email them directly to my mortgage lender.

Many online mortgage companies also provide great tools that make the financing process convenient. Wise Bread’s editor-in-chief Lynn Truong had a great experience using Discover Home Loans. Lynn enjoyed the personalized customer service, the 24/7 online access to check the status of her loan, the helpful online calculators, and the lightning-fast responses that helped her secured her loan to purchase her dream home.

6. The Transaction

Some agents still do everything on paper, but others are equipped with online applications that make signing all the documents needed to complete a transaction easier, especially if you are geographically distant from the agent. E-signature programs, which are my favorite, are convenient tools that allow you to sign a document electronically and alert you if you've missed a signature or initial, so you don't lose time sending incomplete documents back and forth.

These are just a few ways technology has made homebuying a faster and likely easier process. Real estate buyers and sellers are likely to continue to become more comfortable using Internet-based research and tools to help them find properties and secure loans. At the same time, those tools are likely to become more robust and more responsive. Maybe in another few years we’ll be viewing homes via Google Drones and signing mortgage documents with thumb scans on our iPads.

Have you taken advantage of technology in your homebuying process?

Discover Home Loans has provided me with compensation for my time and efforts on this article. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.

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