Today’s real estate investor must navigate a world of limitless information when deciding on the best properties to invest in. Gone are the days of driving around town to find properties. These days the status quo is to hit the web and peruse Google for that perfect property. The question is, how productive and effective are your searches?
There are two distinct groups of investors when it comes to technology in general. There are tech-savvy investors with apps for this, widgets for that and a favorites list that’s a mile long. On the other end of the spectrum are those that find the internet an unfamiliar world that creates more spam than valuable information. The problem with both comes down to an overload of information.
For the techie, going online becomes a pandora’s box of every possible data point aggregated into an assortment of maps, charts, videos and anything else an over caffeinated developer dreams up. This blizzard can be distracting and hinder your judgment on a property. A great way to prevent this is to simply review the top 5 or 10 sites you most frequently visit and stick with them. Try to choose one site for one style of information. An example would be to choose one site for demographics and another for rental rates. Those accustomed to data mining will find this difficult at first but if you use Zillow for property stats, why spend time using Trulia too? They are aggregating the same data!
When it comes to those less comfortable with technology, the same situation occurs. Not understanding the proper way to search Google or understanding the difference between highly opinionated sites and fact-centric sites can be a search stopper. A solid recommendation is to define what you want to use the internet for. Finding properties? Gaining further information about properties? Both?
In the end, finding your own selection of sites will set you on the best path to effective web-based searching. But having a solid base of sites can help you to focus in on what you are really looking for. Here are a few sites that may be of value to those looking to find or research properties using the internet:
This site has been around for some time now and is truly the 800lb guerilla of property data sites. The website connects to MLS systems, Court Systems, Etc. and is constantly updated. Designed for ease of use, information such as tax value, tax rate, bedrooms, baths are easily viewable house by house on a graphical map. Do a search for a specific property or zoom down to a street and click a house.
As an investor trying to understand a market in a different region, getting accurate demographic and neighborhood data is difficult to say the least. Although a trustworthy realtor is invaluable, even they can have difficulties providing statistics. This website has a free edition that pulls from census data to give you a huge amount of information. From racial breakdown to owner/renter ratios, this site delivers. Just be careful not to make assumptions based on statistics until you confer with a local expert, sometimes what appears to be a troubling trend may actually be beneficial to your short or long term goals.
This isn’t necessarily a website but more of an article that provides several different styles of investment calculators. It’s a great source due to the fact that investors tend to have different styles of calculating investments; this site consolidates many of them for easy access.
Want a feel for the neighborhood in a visual format? Don’t forget the Street View feature of Google Maps. This feature can be used by zooming down to a street and dragging the “person” from the zoom in/out toolbar onto a street (this will make sense when you see it). Although outdated by up to a couple of years on occasion, Street View can still be a great way to see the architecture and overall condition of the street.
Another great way to use the site is to zoom into a neighborhood and type “Schools” or “Bus Stop” into the search bar. Identifying the location of civic amenities can be invaluable in understanding the rent ability and stability of an area.
This site can provide you a single-source of every MLS system in the country. If you’re taking the independent path of finding properties, Realtor.com can help you locate any property listed in MLS. It is standard procedure now for banks to place foreclosures on MLS through REO agents. These properties will normally be vacant and pre-renovation in condition. Although similar in design to Zillow, Realtor.com guarantees that you’re covering your bases in your search.
This site is the mirrored image of the paper based publication. Thrifty Nickel is a free classified publication that is published in major cities and placed inside gas stations, grocery stores and most importantly… Section 8 offices in many cities. In Kansas City, the housing authority will not allow solicitation inside of or around their Section 8 offices but they do have a thrifty nickel stand inside.
Investors managing their own properties or with vacancies that a property manager can’t fill should place an ad, its far more affordable than a leasing agent and reaches tens of thousands of potential renters.
For investors evaluating a property, locating ads for properties nearby can provide an insight to what the true market rent rate is on a property. A serious mistake can occur when a property is rented far above the market rate and the tenant moves out and takes your cash flow with them.
To conclude, using the internet can be an invaluable tool for evaluating an opportunity if used properly. Beware of “paralysis by analysis” and focus on trustworthy sites that fellow investors recommend. New investors should use these tools in tandem with a reputable realtor or turn-key operation to guarantee that you understand what you’re seeing online. Conversely, online tools can validate the claims of the local experts and is a great way to vet potential sellers.