Home shopping online? 5 digital tools that do much of the work for you
Nov. 12, 2020 • 4 min read
What we'll cover
Tools to shop online for a home
Ways to find out what neighborhood you should live in
Resources to determine how much house can you afford
Buying your own digs is likely the largest purchase you’ll make in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you should have house-sized stress when home shopping online.
Whether you’re a first-time purchaser or repeat buyer, the following digital tools and resources can help folks of all real estate skill levels smartly navigate the homebuying experience – keeping you informed and confident until that final (stress-free) walkthrough. However, please use these tools at your own discretion, as Ally cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information provided by these services.
1. Multiple listing service sites and apps
Websites and apps like Redfin, Trulia, and Zillow are the first stop on your homebuying journey. These multiple listing services (otherwise known as MLS sites) allow you to view a wide variety of homes for sale in your area, set up alerts for when new listings go live, and compare price and sale histories. Plus, they provide useful real estate data points like price per square foot, estimated monthly payment, construction date, and how long the property has been listed.
After you’ve found a home you’d like to tour through these sites, you can even schedule a visit and also read real estate agent reviews, if you’re looking to find an agent to work with you during the process.
2. Neighborhood rating sites
Narrowing your home search to a particular locale can seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you haven’t determined the neighborhood vibe you’re looking for. You can start your search using GoogleMaps to explore surrounding areas, then dig deeper with neighborhood rating sites like NeighborhoodScout. It provides essential takeaways such as crime statistics, unemployment rates, median real estate prices, common languages spoken, and population density.
And if you’re planning to start a family sometime in the future or already have some tykes in tow, school district review sites, like GreatSchools, might also be a big part of your digital homebuying tool kit. That’s because it gives you access to information about area schools, including school ratings, expert rankings, graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios, and teacher (and parents) reviews.
Did you know that neighborhoods have walk, transit, and bike scores, too? Walking and transportation sites such as Walk Score provide high-level walkability, transit friendly, and bike-friendly rankings for more than 2,800 cities and neighborhoods in the U.S. You can even cross-reference homes for sale in the area with a deeper look at the process and stats that comprise these rankings.
Why the rise in all this eco-friendly neighborhood data? Millennials are changing homebuying and have placed increasing importance on sustainability and walkability factors when it comes to homes.
3. Homebuyers guide
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer, a guiding hand can be particularly helpful when navigating the complex homebuying process. Our complete guide to the homebuying process has your back, guiding you along every part of the process — answering your questions around essential topics like estimating your budget, what is pre-approval for a mortgage, how to lock in a home loan, and more.
4. Affordability and mortgage calculators
Finding a home that you love is only one part of the homebuying process. You also need to know how much house you can afford and how you’re going to pay for it — and that’s really where the sleepless nights can come in.
Luckily, you don’t need to pull out a calculator, pencil, and loose-leaf paper to crunch the numbers because, in this new digital homebuying world, there are plug-and-play calculators that do all the math for you.
A budget calculator, such as our home affordability calculator, will provide you with a personalized homebuying budget based on income, expenses, credit score, and desired zip code. And an online mortgage calculator, like ours, will estimate your monthly payment with a similar set of numbers.
5. Digital document management
While parts of the homebuying experience remain in-person, much of the paperwork associated with the process — including many of the closing documents — are now processed electronically.
When getting pre-approved for a home loan, certain loan providers, like Ally Home, provide a portal that makes the process quicker and more efficient by allowing you to upload, sign, and submit documents, as well as lock in your rate – all online.
There are also services, like DocuSign, that, when used in permissible regions, allow you to prepare, sign, authorize, and digitally manage much of the legal paperwork. So, you can rest assured, you’ll be saving trees and making the signing process easier while staying secure, using two-factor authentication that complies with industry standards, keeping your personal data safe.
From first search to final walkthrough, technology can make you feel more empowered along each step of the homebuying journey. These five digital resources will help you remain less stressed and more informed than ever before.