Today almost everyone looks for property and homes on the Internet, since you can see pictures, features and prices of properties from the comfort of your own home. Estate agents and developers know this, so that means that a lot of information is available. As a result, it can be hard to find exactly what you are looking for among all the ads, pop-up windows and millions of search results. The other pitfall is gauging the reliability of information you find on the web.
How to get good results
It is important to note that Google, MSN and Yahoo! all give different results for any search; it is a very good idea to perform searches on all three engines. An easy way do this is to search on a meta search engine like Search.com, Dogpile.com, or Mamma.com. They search several sources at once and all have handy “related searches” options. These are alternate suggestions which give you more focused terms related to your first query.
Thinking about what you are searching for before you start searching is a great way to save time. By far the most popular search phrase is “[name of area] real estate”, but actually that is not a very good query. The reason is that it is too general, since it includes all real estate: homes, condos, warehouses, office space, and land. It is unlikely you will be buying all of that at once! Include the area or neighbourhood you want, the kind of property you are looking for, and even specific features. You can see that you go more directly to more relevant pages and sites if you type in “[city province nation neighbourhood] condo for sale” rather than just “beach condo”.
Another way to narrow down your search query is by using advanced features that the search engines offer. Search engines offer advanced search menus where you can specify an exact match, eliminate words you don’t want in the pages and even where the term appears on the page. So if you are looking for a holiday home to buy, you can eliminate holiday travel sites and holiday homes for rent and holiday homes in other countries using these features.
How to avoid scam artists
Once you start finding websites, an important issue arises. How can you tell if a person with a really slick website isn’t a reputable estate agent or developer? There are several rules you should follow to ensure that you don’t get conned.
- First, don’t send any money!! Money for real estate transactions is placed in escrow, or you pay when you are actually sitting in the lawyer’s office (hopefully your own lawyer’s) and the seller signs the papers.
- Secondly, don’t buy a property you haven’t seen in person. There is no way you can tell what a property is like before you see it.
- Thirdly, get references. Before you decide to deal with an estate agent or developer, ask them for references from clients, other professionals and business associates.
While you are surfing, there are some telltale signs on the website that you can watch for. Reputable people tend to put their photos on the web site. Some reputable people may be camera-shy, but it is pretty standard for an estate agent to have a photo and brief biography somewhere on the site. A developer would have information about previous projects they have completed and the principals in the company. Contact information is vital. The physical office address or mailing address, multiple phone numbers, and particularly names are important.
Many sites make a point of showing their affiliations to groups like a local board of estate agents, international organisations or franchises, and to local business organisations. These are all good signs, when the affiliation is meaningful and is to a group that actually exists. Another good sign is if the site links to other estate agent or property web sites. If they will tell you about other estate agents in other areas of the country, then that means they have strong relations in the industry.
No Gooooogle ads! I take it as a warning sign when a site has "sponsor" ads from Google or Overture on it. An estate agent or developer is making money from the sale of property or for providing valuable services to buyers and sellers, not by gaining revenue from traffic clicking on ads that appear on the site. While it is not a sure sign of misbehaviour, it would tell me to watch closely for other signs.
No hyperbole! There is a big difference between good ad copy and outrageous claims. If you see claims like these, watch out! (taken from the site of a known rip-off merchant):
In the last five years property values have increased 30-fold and are expected to continue to increase dramatically as U.S. industry, tourism and retirement surges. [So if I bought a townhouse in 2000 for $100,000 it is now worth $3 million!!]
Ten years ago investors paid $1,000 to $5,000 an acre for property that now sells for $180,000 per acre. [This is highly unlikely, unless they added major improvements – like an entire hotel and marina.]
There are two old sayings to keep in mind when judging claims made on any web site: "You get what you pay for" and "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". Investing in real estate and construction in developing countries can be highly profitable and rewarding, but there is no magic formula. You can’t reasonably expect to come across a web site on the Internet that will allow you to triple a $6,000 investment in one year!