How to Search for a Home in Charlottesville (Without a Realtor)

Part 1 of at least 2. Part 2 coming next Wednesday.

Home buyers like the inter webs. Fact. What follows are steps to search for a home in the Charlottesville area – without engaging a real estate agent (we’ll get to why it’s usually crucial to hire quality buyer representation).

NAR 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers - Print.pdf (page 1 of 4).jpg

I first wrote You’re Going about It all Wrong – Or How to Search for Homes in Charlottesville (Without a Realtor) in early 2009 and thought nearly 4 years was sufficient time to warrant an update.

In 2009, I asked a particularly well-informed buyer client if she’d mind describing her search process. Today’s post updates the process for 2013.

How do you search for homes in Charlottesville? (Charlottesville meaning: Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Nelson, Louisa)

1. Your IDX home search site– Browse the map for affordable homes in places I want to live. Or, check the local MLS for new listings and then look on IDX to see if there is more information there. Now, a lot of people are using our site at Nest to search for homes as we’ve put together a great area search and educational section as well. (I don’t particularly care for Zillow or Trulia for searching for homes to see today or this week; but for supporting and ancillary information, they’re great).

2. Look up the found home on Charlottesville City Assessment (Ed note: or Albemarle County or Fluvanna or Louisa, etc.) website to find:

a. Tax Assessment price (In my opinion, assessed values have little to no correlation to what a property’s actual market value would be)

b. Who owns it? Does the owner live there? This often leads to another search on the City Assessment website for the owner’s name to see how many properties the owner has. Do the owners seem to be in good financial shape or have they made a lot of bad decisions (i.e. may need to get rid of the property to stay above water)?

c. Check for any inconsistencies in square ft, room numbers, etc between MLS listing and tax assessment.

d. Look at pictures to see how different the home looked a few years back. (note: this leads to a separate rant about Realtors stripping the MLS of photos of their listings when the listing expires/sells – this kills the accuracy and historical context of the MLS and devalues the MLS as a useful thing.)

e. Study transfer information to see when house was last sold, what it sold for, when it may have had work done, etc.

Realtors have access to a pretty useful (and underused) tool called RPR which allows us to compare the current listing to the previous ones.
Great. You’ve identified a few homes … now what?
(Part 2 coming next Wednesday)

The first step really ought to be – pick an agent who will be able to guide you through the process (for instance, tell you where to search for homes online). But I know a lot of you are either just curious about the market or not quite ready to engage a quality buyer’s agent. At some point, please do. (I am one 🙂 )

– When you call a sellers’ agent to show you the house, that agent is not representing your best interests – that agent is representing the seller and the sellers’ best interests. How do you pick a good Buyer’s Agent – for you? Despite recent improvements in the Virginia

Once you have an agent who is able to guide you through the process, search well and search often – some houses come and go quickly while others sit for weeks and months. It’s good to learn the market before decision-making time.

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