real estate

Top Sites for Buyers and Sellers

It was only a matter of time before the Web changed the way houses are bought and sold.

It was only a matter of time before the Web changed the way houses are bought and sold. Buyers can browse listings, view prices and take virtual tours before they ever lay eyes on an agent. Sellers can use the Web to get a good idea of how to value their homes and even list them for sale on their own.

Start your search. If you want to pare down the list of neighborhoods in which you'd like to settle, HomePages.com can help you with much of the legwork. The site provides statistics on the community's median age and income, population and education, as well as information on local schools and businesses. It also shows houses that have recently sold and provides an aerial view of homes for sale.

Browse the listings. The most comprehensive site for listings is Realtor.com, sponsored by the National Association of Realtors. The site lists more than three million properties for sale across the country -- nearly all the properties you'll find in the multiple listing service. Browsing is easy. Enter your search criteria, including location, size, price and type of property. Want hardwood floors? Central air? You can add those specifics to your search as well. With more than 50 criteria to choose from, you can quickly narrow your search to a manageable list. Most listings on the site include a slide show of interior rooms as well as the outside.

With the median sales price of for-sale-by-owner homes nearly one-fourth less than that of homes sold by agents, ForSaleByOwner.com is worth a look. The site recently had 55,000 FSBOs. For sellers interested in the do-it-yourself route, a listing costs $89 to $899, depending on the package you choose. You'll have to do a lot of the prep work, but the site offers the marketing materials and legal forms you'll need.

Value your home. HouseValues.com can give you an estimate of what your house is worth -- a good starting point if you're looking to put your home on the market. Unlike sites that rely on public records, which are often outdated or simply inaccurate, HouseValues.com forwards your information to a real estate professional who knows your market. An e-mailed report estimates the value of your home and provides historical sales data for comparable homes in your area.

If you don't want to wait for an e-mail from an agent -- or don't want to deal with a real person -- you can get an instant value range from Zillow.com. The site provides a property report that lists the square footage and lot size, the number of bedrooms and baths, and other details. Because the home-value information on Zillow.com is based on public records, it may not be as up-to-date as an estimate by HouseValues.com. But Zillow's reports include value estimates of nearby homes, along with sales-history and property-tax information, which can help you put your sales plan in perspective.

Zillow also recently added for-sale listings to the site. Homeowners can add their listings to the site free of charge. -- Christine M. Varner

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