Online Home Search: Going Beyond MLS Data

Have you ever dreamed of being a private detective?

Welcome to online home search - solve the case of locating your new perfect home!

The events of 2020 have resulted in a permanent change in what we look for in a home. This goes beyond just confirming whether a space can be useful as a home office, which is something that would typically be marketed even pre-pandemic. With in-person dining at restaurants closed ad hoc across many counties and states, knowing the food delivery vendors for a home has become a critical data point. Also, given the amount of time spent living and working from home, it is not enough to just know the square footage of your home office; what about the quality of the cellphone coverage? The speed of the internet?

Online home sleuths rejoice – here we discuss how to properly conduct an online home search and go beyond MLS data...   

All major home search sites include a filter tool to help narrow your search from thousands of homes to <100. A basic filter specifies the city, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, and square foot range. 

Once you have narrowed your search to fewer than 100 homes based on the above criteria, you can rely on a combination of pictures and secondary data points to narrow your search down to <10, i.e., a number of homes that could potentially be visited in one weekend. 

The goal of the visit would then just be to confirm the data you have already learned online – does the house feel bigger or smaller than its official measurements? Are the pictures accurate? Are there any weird smells or noises?   

Phase I: Go from >1,000 to <100

Create a profile of your subject...

PI Tip: All missing person cases should begin with a profile of the subject.

Home Search Tip:

Create a list of features describing your desired home. In order to move beyond Phase I, you will need to narrow it down by city, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, and square feet. If you haven’t decided on a city, you may still need to make a wish list of describing your ideal city attributes; the top items people typically consider are affordability, commute to work, school quality, safety, and environment.   

Online Home Search: Going Beyond MLS Data

Phase II: Go from >10 to <=10

Surveillance...

PI Tip: Make sure to use a nondescript car with a neutral color when staking out or tailing a subject.

Home Search Tip:

Search technology today enables you to conduct your “surveillance” from the comfort of your desktop, or while scrolling through your phone. 

Make a list of other aesthetic or stylistic features of the home that are important to you; this can include architectural style, yard features, and the appearance of kitchens and bathrooms (are they dated or recently remodeled?). You can also include items such as which direction the home faces, how wide is the street, what do the neighbor’s homes look like (are they vacant or in disrepair?), and whether there is any major construction on the street. 

These questions can generally be answered by looking at listing photos, using the map feature to zoom in on the house and its surroundings, and typing words into a keyword search (for example, a search of “craftsman” narrowed my list of 36 three-bed, three-bath homes in Seattle down to just two).  

Interviews and public records...

PI Tip: Locating all types of records (birth, death, marriage, property) is a daunting task - that's why hiring a professional is a wise investment.

Home Search Tip:

Today, there is more information people willingly share about themselves on social media than ever before, and many public records are online. The amount of relevant information you can find online regarding a home is even more incredibly vast, and the biggest challenge in tapping into that data is just managing the sheer number of different sites that it is spread across. 

The best home search sites attempt to pull all that data from across the web and distill it into one location. The top home search sites either get their basic data from an MLS (multiple listing service; a database kept by brokers to share data on homes in order to facilitate connections between buyers and sellers) or directly from listing agents and homeowners. However, sites vary in terms of what data they provide beyond the typical MLS information. Here, we provide a list of key data to incorporate in your online home search that might not always be included on the listing page of your favorite online real estate portal.   

Home data resources: Going beyond MLS...

1. Electric car charge points: Zap-Map, ChargePoint, PlugShare, Department of Transportation.

2. Internet speed in this home: WhistleOut, HighSpeedInternet.

3. How safe do people feel around this home: NeighborhoodScout, National Neighborhood Watch (NNW), SpotCrime, AreaVibes, FBI reporting.

  • Crime statistics 
  • Is there a neighborhood watch?
  • Is there adequate street lighting?
  • What do the residents say?

4. Closest grocery, pharmacy, and department stores: Yelp, Google Maps.

5. School District: Niche, NeighborhoodScout, GreatSchools, CountyHealthRanking, EdOpportunity, Department of Education.

  • Test scores and data
  • Programming 
  • Extracurricular activities 
  • Sports programs
  • PTO

6. Nearby parks, walking paths, or dog parks: CountyHealthRankings, GreenInfo, Census, National Park Service.

  • Sidewalks 
  • Parks 
  • Walking trails

7. How green is the area: Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (MRLC).

8. Food needs: DoorDash, Instacart, Yelp, GrubHub, OpenTable.

  • Types of restaurants in the area
  • Who delivers to the home

9. How does the area rate on various climate risk characteristics: ProPublica, US Geological Service, CDC, Environmental Protection Agency.

10. How traffic is locally: Environmental Protection Agency.

11. Is it noisy: Department of Transportation's Noise Map.

12. Financial profile of local residents: NeighborhoodScout, Census, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

13. Does the neighborhood have a Facebook group?

14. What is the life expectancy of local residents: Blue Zones, Census, CDC.

15. Local politics: PewResearch, Gallup, Local Election Office.

  • What are the political affiliations and voting patterns?
  • What is the approval rating of the local government?

16. What are the local weather patterns: Weather Channel, AccuWeather, CNN.

ZeroDown aggregates the majority of these unique data points in one place - we aim to be your indispensable companion when hunting for your dream home online.

Make sure to download our free Google Chrome plugin, Sherlock, which provides the data you need - instantly - while you browse Zillow and Redfin. From price trends, permit history, and sale history to demographics, quality of life, healthcare access, and more.

Join our newsletter!

We're constantly keeping up with the latest real estate trends and news - let us keep you in the loop!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Further reading

10 Statistics About Every State’s Real Estate Market

The real estate market is nuanced from state to state, and while many national trends hold true at a more localized level, it's important to understand the context of your individual state. So we've gone ahead and analyzed 10 stats about every state's real estate market...

As Promised, Elon Musk Officially Owns "No Home"

The tech entrepreneur has finally ditched all properties in his portfolio and owns "no home".

These 10 Regions Have the Best Real Estate Prospects for Investors

It's a tough market for anyone right now - real estate investors included - who are not only competing with each others, but also with regular home buyers. So we've analyzed all U.S. markets and come up with the 10 best regions for real estate investors to consider.