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2016-06-22 / Real Estate

Meeting your Nestiny

A look at what online tools are available for homebuyers
By Rich Griset
STAFF WRITER

Working full time as a Realtor four years ago, Jody Clower realized that the way potential buyers looked for homes was completely wrong.

“What happens with real estate is people start looking for homes before they even know what they want, what they need or what they can afford,” says the Goochland native. “That basically puts the horse in front of the cart.”

Clower began working on a website to change this, eventually leaving her job to pursue the project full time. Now, there’s Nestiny, a consumer-oriented website that has users create a profile of their needs and desires before they even begin to look at houses. It’s just one in a growing number of online resources for homebuyers.

Nestiny.com

After creating a free account, there are five ways to get started, including Journey Homeward, where users create a home wish list, and a True Affordability Tool, where users can receive suggested price ranges for what they can comfortably spend.

“It’s a free place they can go to get sound, expert advice 24 hours a day that keeps them on track,” says Clower, Nestiny’s founder and chief executive. “It’s the little bird in their ear asking all the right questions.”

The site then offers a step-by-step guide that walks users through the entire process from start to finish. Nestiny aims to educate its users about home buying and help them avoid common mistakes. Users are only contacted by an agent when they request one.

Though the site has been live for two years, Clower only began promoting it earlier this year. The site has already received attention from Forbes, Bloomberg and The Huffington Post. Clower stresses that the process is hassle-free for users.

“We want to make them feel more empowered because it’s one of their biggest purchases,” Clower says.

Realtor.com

In the biz, real estate brokers use collections of private databases called multiple listing services to connect properties and buyers as quickly as possible. When it comes to home listings, Realtor.com claims to have the freshest and most accurate information around.

“We pull data from nearly all of the [multiple listing services] in the

United States,” says Lexie Holbert, spokeswoman for Realtor.com. “We have the most comprehensive listings anywhere.”

Updated every 15 minutes, the site can tell you if a seller has adjusted the price or if an offer is pending in real time. As housing inventory is at a three-year low, Holbert says the site helps give a competitive edge in terms of buying.

Users can filter through houses by price, number of bedrooms, number of baths, lot size and other measures.

The site also offers information about the surrounding neighborhood and schools, as well as a map showing nearby coffeehouses, bars and other landmarks. A monthly payment calculator helps users figure out what they can afford, and trend information is covered under the site’s News & Advice tab. Realtor.com also offers mobile apps.

Redfin.com

After starting out as a map-based search tool for home-buying and selling, Redfin soon joined forces with real estate agents to create a different way to handle purchases.

“Redfin is unique in that it’s a technology company, as well as a full-fledged real estate brokerage,” says Alina Ptaszynski, spokeswoman for Redfin. “We operate an amazing website that allows people to search for homes for sale.”

With a team of local real estate agents on the ground in more than 80 markets – including the Richmond area – Redfin’s model is a little different than the standard commission-based way most real estate agents work. Instead, agents are paid a salary and receive bonuses based on customer satisfaction surveys. Customers always receive a survey, and agents’ reviews are posted online, good or bad.

“The agent is really incentivized to provide the best service, the best experience for the client, as opposed to just trying to close a quick deal,” Ptaszynski says.

Also different is the fact that Redfin agents give a portion of their commission back to the homebuyer.

Online, potential buyers can do a 3-D tour of listed homes and view professionally taken photographs. Users can also receive instant alerts about homes they are interested in, and Redfin also offers mobile apps for Android and iPhone.

Zillow.com

Claiming to be the country’s largest real estate marketplace for homeowners, buyers, sellers and renters, Zillow has a living database of 110 million homes – nearly every home in the country.

For these homes, Zillow provides a “Zestimate,” an estimated value for what a home might sell for. The site also recently launched a video walk-through feature, allowing users to view the inside of a home before scheduling a showing.

“We don’t just show you homes for sale by agents, we provide information about past sales, comparables, and other listing types such as foreclosures, and pre-market homes,” says Zillow spokesman Jeremy Wacksman, via email. “Our foundation is the idea that buyers, sellers and homeowners are able to make better, smarter decisions about their homes if they have as much information as possible.”

Users can use the site to buy, sell, rent, get a mortgage and even decorate or remodel their homes. The site’s Renter Profile feature allows users to get their information in front of landlords quickly and easily.

Trulia.com:

A subsidiary of Zillow, Trulia offers a variety of real estaterelated products for buyers, sellers and renters. The site offers price trend information, as well as the ability to compare a home’s price with that of the surrounding ZIP code and city.

The site also offers a crime map to see the criminal activity in many parts of the country, as well as school information. Trulia also offers mobile apps for iPhone and Android.

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