The MLS and Online Home Search
One of the most powerful tools for both selling and buying homes is your local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS is a database of residential properties, commercial properties, industrial properties, vacant lots, and rentals in your area. It’s maintained by Realtors, with a wealth of information about properties that are for sale and years worth of information regarding past sales. If you’ve worked with a Realtor to buy or sell a home, then there’s a very good chance that home was in the MLS.
There are numerous websites that consolidate listings from the thousands of MLS databases across the country into a form that internet users can search themselves. Trulia, Zillow, Yahoo! Homes, Homes.com, and LoopNet (commercial listings) are just a few online property search websites that are available to users for free. These websites can also be setup to email you whenever new listings that meet your criteria come up for sale.
There are several shortcomings of the online real estate websites. For one, the information is not always up to date. Several of the websites don’t recognize the sales status between “Active” and “Sold” (i.e. contingent, pending). In those cases, a home will show as available but only later do you find that it’s actually under contract. Another problem is the lack of search criteria. If you want to find a home in a certain school zone or one with a 2 car garage, there may not be a search field for you.