Dear Kathe,

We’re hoping to move in the New Year and are beginning our search online – is there anything we should keep in mind?

The majority of buyers will shop online during their search for a new home, and many will actually begin their search there, like yourselves! The real estate industry has come such a long way in the 17 years since I started in this business. Back in what feels like a different century (perhaps because it was), we used bulky multilist books that were delivered every other week to find homes for our clients. If you were in good with your agent, she might lend you a coveted book to take home and peruse! Now you can access the entire nation’s real estate inventory on national websites such as realtor.com in the comfort of your own home!

The internet has made it incredibly easy for buyers to do some preliminary research for a new home. It does have its limitations, however, which is where your expert real estate agent can fill in the gaps.

Online listings, if managed by a top agent, will always look amazing. Wide-angle lenses and professional photographers are employed, as well as photo-editing software, to make a home look as attractive as possible online. It’s worth keeping in mind that pictures may lie – be careful not to screen out potential homes just because the photos aren’t fabulous – rely instead on the wisdom of your agent. If she has listened to your feedback and is familiar with the inventory, she will be your best screen for which homes are better than they appear, and which may be worse.

Online listings also don’t give you much of a sense of location. While google earth may help with some of this, until you actually drive by a property, you may not be able to tell physical lot characteristics that may be a positive or a negative to you. Online listings also can do little to convey a sense of neighborhood or community. Again, that is where your real estate professional should be able to fill in the picture for you.

Finally, online listings are only as good as the agent who enters the data – there may be information about the property that is not entered into the MLS, either by agent oversight or by simple lack of space, that might make a home more desirable to you. Information such as camera security systems, water softener and purification systems, high-efficiency mechanicals and timered vacation/Christmas lighting may have real value to you and is rarely listed online.

Online shopping is a great way to familiarize yourself with the market, but a local real estate expert is your best course of action once your curiosity grows more serious.