No matter where you live or plan on relocating to, buying or renting a home is a serious undertaking. Few people make the mistake of choosing a new home sight-unseen, but a poorly planned strategy can have similar negative consequences.
Thankfully, the Internet makes it a lot easier to narrow your list of prospects without tearing out your hair in the process. Like the website Zillow, Trulia serves, for the most part, as a one-stop source for prospective home-buyers and renters who demand a full, unfettered picture of their housing options.
House Hunting Essentials
The Internet has certainly leveled the playing field for buyers and renters, but certain aspects of a home search haven’t changed much. At various points in the process, you’re going to need to do the following:
- Find a competent, honest real estate agent
- Plan a workable commute
- Get to know your new neighborhood
- Understand important details such as school quality and local building codes
- Educate yourself about local quirks that can have a big impact on your finances, including municipal and state taxes, prices for basic staples and consumer goods, and the cost-benefit ratio of the area’s transit options
Trulia gives you the tools to accomplish many of the above tasks with ease. It has always been a higher-end house-hunting site, and its recent redesign solidifies its reputation as such. The mobile-friendly main page is location-specific – you’re shown and invited to search for homes and rental properties in or near the city or county in which you’re currently located. Completely separate “Buy” and “Rent” sections ensure that you won’t have to weed through irrelevant listings, and the recently added “Find a Real Estate Agent” feature lets you connect with a local professional after getting the lay of the land on your own.
Trulia also regularly refreshes a searchable database of local sales. This allows you to conduct market research without digging through municipal records or sheepishly knocking on front doors with “sold” signs out front.
Additional features include:
- Four Different “Buy” Options. Trulia’s drop-down “Buy” tab gives you four useful options. If you’re looking for listed homes, “Homes For Sale” points you to privately owned residences, lots, and investment properties on the market. “Open Houses” alerts you to upcoming or ongoing open houses in the area, although this information isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate. You can also see specific listings under “Foreclosures” and “New Homes.” All of these sections provide basic data on price trends – if the asking price has dropped recently, a green down-arrow appears next to the new ask.
- Recently Sold Homes. Trulia’s “Recently Sold” feature lets you research your target market before you place any bids. You can compare list prices that you find on the site or elsewhere with actual sale prices from the past few months.
- Interactive Search Tool. Whether you’re buying or renting, an interactive search feature narrows your choices with several customized options. Specify your maximum and minimum price, bedroom and bathroom requirements, unit type (house, condo, co-op, apartment, or other configuration), square footage, pet policy, and more. You can also enter a specific address to find homes or rental properties within a tight radius.
- Two Different “Rent” Options. Trulia appears to understand that not everyone who rents wants to live in a cramped walk-up or faceless suburban complex. If you’re looking for a traditional apartment in a multifamily complex, check out the site’s “Apartment” section. For single-family or duplex rentals, click on the “Rental Homes” drop-down.
- Advice Columns. If you’re new to the buying or renting process – or find yourself in a strange situation – Trulia maintains a user-generated “Advice” section that connects buyers and renters with local real estate professionals. Fair warning, though: Many of the folks who offer advice on Trulia are trying to sell you something. It’s up to you to sort the wheat from the chaff.
- Local Blogs. General and location-specific blogs get you acquainted with the home-buying process, basic mortgage protocols, apartment pitfalls, and more. Note that smaller markets tend not to have fully developed blog networks, so you may have to settle for general advice.
- Local Mortgage Guide. Trulia is a one-stop mortgage, home loan, and refinancing shop. An easily customized quote finding feature lets you calculate sample mortgage rates based on your credit score, down payment, property type, location, and loan term. You can also see a regularly updated broadsheet of recently issued loans in your area to determine whether you’re getting a fair deal.
- Mortgage Calculator. If you’re not ready to get specific, Trulia’s mortgage calculator lets you calculate hypothetical mortgage payments. Just enter a purchase price, down payment, and interest rate to learn how much you would have to pay each month to live in your dream home. Meanwhile, its “Rent vs. Buy” calculator uses inputs such as time of stay, income tax rate, target rent, target purchase price, and mortgage interest rate to issue a side-by-side comparison of your monthly renting and buying costs over the full term of your stay.
- Local Information Feature. Before you commit to a move, Trulia’s “Explore” feature gets you acquainted with your new neighborhood. An interactive “Heat Map” shows local rents, home prices, crime rates, commute times, and a number of other metrics for select metropolitan areas. Virtually every city and county boasts a census graph, map, and “Stats Page” that contains crime statistics, school ratings, and other salient information. Even if these data points don’t directly affect the cost of your home, they certainly affect its value over the long-term.
- Find a Pro. Trulia lets you search for local real estate agents, mortgage brokers, developers, apartment community managers, and other key industry players. This is helpful if you’re looking for a specific individual or company in a major metro area, but keep in mind that Trulia’s listings aren’t guaranteed to be complete or up-to-date. If you’re hoping to save yourself some money with a local “in,” it might be better to do things the old-fashioned way – by picking up the phone.
- Submit Listings. There’s no practical way for sellers to directly submit listings to Trulia, but the platform encourages homeowners to do so through its brokers. Trulia for Professionals makes it easy for real estate agents to post free listings on the site, so don’t let a broker charge you for this service.
- Trulia Trends. This easy-to-follow blog breaks down complex real estate data for laypeople – the tagline is “real estate data for the rest of us.” If you use its advice to inform your buying decisions, you’re apt to save a boatload. If you’re buying in a smaller market, though, don’t be surprised if its pronouncements are of limited utility.
- Trulia Luxe. This is probably Trulia’s least useful feature, but it sure is fun to play with – and it might just help you save money redecorating that $10 million country house you’ve always wanted. Find recently bought, sold, and renovated homes owned by athletes, actors, and business titans here.
- Trulia For Professionals. Also known as Trulia Business Solutions, this service caters to real estate agents and brokers who need to post listings, supplement their market research, or access the MLS quickly. TBS offers a number of widgets and apps – including Trulia Carousel and Trulia Slideshow – to help real estate professionals post listings and dazzle their clients. This section is free as well, so it’s a great way for novice real estate professionals to connect with sellers and build their credibility.
Trulia’s host of features provide a wide range of benefits, including the following:
- It’s Free. Trulia earns the bulk of its revenue through on-site advertising and partnerships. Buyers, sellers, renters, and professionals never have to pay for access.
- Local Emphasis. The site doesn’t just curate MLS data in a user-friendly package. To help you get the best possible deal on the purchase or lease of your next home – and educate you in the process – it offers a wealth of location-specific information and services.
- Listing and Recently Sold Alerts. It can be a pain to search for newly sold or listed homes. Trulia’s alerts reduce the number of redundant searches you need to conduct by notifying you when homes within the zip codes you specify are listed or sold. If time is money, this feature is gold.
- Comprehensive Research. Trulia lets you find full sale information on any properties sold in your area within the past nine months. It also offers a home-value estimating feature that tells you how much you “should” be paying for a local home or apartment. Segmented listings help you find the type of home – foreclosure, new construction, and so on – that most interests you, as well. All this comes on top of a comprehensive store of user-generated and professionally sourced advice.
- Full Service. Trulia isn’t the only game in town, but it’s one of the few full-service home- and apartment-finding tools out there. Lots of no-frills sites offer regularly updated listings, and plenty others curate mortgage or refinancing data, but few wrap so many data points into one package. Value-added services like a realtor database, user-generated content, and specialty blogs create a self-contained ecosystem that buyers and renters don’t have to venture outside of in order to find the information they need. And, since you don’t have to pay for these bells and whistles, you’re apt to save a good chunk of change by following the advice.
While Trulia is certainly a go-to site when considering your next move, you may need to look elsewhere for a few additional items:
- Nothing for Private Sales. While Trulia allows real estate professionals to post single listings or hook their site profiles into their agency’s data feed, it makes no provisions for private sellers to do the same. This is a big deal – if you want to eliminate broker fees and sell your house on your own, you have to use another platform to get your listing online.
- Wonkiness. Trulia is a complex site that seems to be a little too big for its britches. Navigation and data issues abound. For instance, the site can randomly lose your location preferences or default to a different city. Many state-specific landing pages are hard to navigate as well, making for an unpleasant, unwieldy experience that’s apt to increase the time-cost of your apartment search.
- Busy, Sometimes Unhelpful Community Sections. The site’s advice section and forum are helpful if you’re looking for quick answers to questions about the buying process, but not all of the information here is useful. Over time (sometimes quickly), threads are hijacked by brokers, lenders, “relocation specialists,” and others looking to make quick sales. Is their advice helpful at times? Probably. Can it save you loads of money or teach you something you couldn’t learn elsewhere? Less likely on both those counts.
- Incomplete Reviews and Recent Sale Data. Trulia’s recent sale window is relatively narrow and makes it difficult to spot market trends. Likewise, it lacks a coherent user review section where buyers, sellers, and renters can compare notes.
- No Worthy Equivalent of Zestimate. Trulia does have a tool that estimates property values, but it’s a far cry from Zillow’s robust Zestimate feature. Trulia’s tool has trouble recognizing specific addresses – it often returns adjacent or even nonadjacent parcels – and is wildly out of sync with market data from other sources.
- Incomplete Rental Section. While it’s possible to find scattered apartment rentals on Trulia, the overall selection is pretty paltry. The site clearly caters to home-buyers, which is fine – just don’t expect to find your next rental home on it. You can probably have more luck, and find better deals to boot, on Craigslist or one of the many apartment-specific listing sites out there.
How Does It Measure Up to Zillow?
We’ve already alluded to Trulia’s main competitor, so it’s time to draw back the curtain and compare them head-on. The good news is that Trulia and Zillow both have similar drawbacks. Neither is good for renters and both lean heavily on user-generated advice that’s uneven at best.
The two sites have some common strengths as well. Both are mobile-friendly and use a growing basket of apps to keep their customers happy. Both go out of their way to cater to real estate professionals – if you’re a broker or agent, you should have accounts on both. For professionals, Trulia is a legitimate way to boost ROI.
That said, it’s sorely lacking in a few key areas. Relative to Zillow, Trulia has fewer listings, a less accurate house-finding tool, extremely poor property value estimates, and fewer mobile widgets. Trulia’s specialized communities – Trends, Luxe, and so on – aren’t as engaging or helpful as their Zillow counterparts. Indeed, the market-research information at Trulia Trends seems incomplete when compared to its Zillow corollary.
Is Trulia worth your time? The site is certainly great for conducting preliminary market research, but it’s outdone by its more polished rival in almost every category we examined. While it’s hard to argue that it won’t at least reduce the time-cost of your home search – if not your final monthly rent or mortgage payment – the lack of a reliable property value estimation tool makes it difficult to argue that Zillow can’t do this better.
If you’re going to use Trulia, definitely don’t use it in a vacuum. Its comprehensive and dynamic listing prices make it a reliable comparison tool, so it won’t hurt to cross-check what you find elsewhere with the Trulia database as you get deeper into your research. Since the home-buying process is a long game for many folks, this alone is enough to boost the value of your free Trulia account.
What has your experience been with Trulia?