Hunting for a new home?
The homebuying process is exhilarating and daunting in equal measure. One minute you’re daydreaming about the perfect home, and the next you’re completely overwhelmed between finding a real estate agent, scouring home listings, calculating affordability, making offers, navigating the mortgage process, and trying to sleep at night in the midst of the largest financial transaction you’ve ever made.
Fortunately, today’s technology makes the process easier than ever. You can do almost everything in the comfort of your pajamas, without ever leaving your sofa.
To help you on your quest, below are 17 free homebuying resources. Don’t worry — you don’t need to learn how to use every single one. Many of them overlap, so you can pick a few you love and ignore the rest.
Let the hunt begin!
Finding Homes & Researching Home Values
When most people think of homebuying resources, they picture websites and mobile apps where you can browse listings and research neighborhood home sales.
You have plenty of those to choose from, and each has their own strengths. Here are a few of the best, along with their individual perks and quirks.
The ultimate household name for homebuying, you probably know Zillow and might have even toyed around with their home search. There’s a reason why they’re the reigning real estate king — they offer the most robust platform on the market.
Yes, they display listings, including both homes for sale and for rent. But they also maintain a massive database of historic home data, including past sales and rent prices, with complete prior listing details such as bedrooms, bathrooms, amenities, and photos. They use their wealth of data to calculate their famed Zestimates of home values, and despite being notoriously high, they get more accurate every year.
Among homes listed for sale, Zillow’s filtering options are powerful and diverse without being overwhelming. You can filter homes by basics such as price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, home type, and square footage. Then you can keep drilling down, filtering by details such as homeowners association (HOA) fees, parking, pool, central air conditioning, basement, single-story only, view, and custom keywords like “hardwood floors.” Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it.
Zillow also offers excellent market data overviews. You can look at city- or neighborhood-level market snapshots, showing historic home appreciation, rents, future appreciation forecasts, and more.
As another nice feature, they even include auction listings from Auction.com. More on them shortly.
Check out our full Zillow review for a more complete list of features.
Once upon a time, Trulia was considered Zillow’s greatest competitor and threat. Zillow solved that problem by writing a check to buy Trulia back in 2015.
The result is that both platforms benefit from each other’s data and innate strengths. While Zillow tries to do it all, Trulia specializes more in helping buyers find the perfect home. The platform is simpler but nearly as robust as its parent’s. Listings include details like crime maps, school district maps, commuting information, tax assessment details, and, of course, historic sales data.
One area where Trulia particularly shines is its affordability calculator. While most online real estate websites offer a mortgage calculator, Trulia takes pains to include other related housing costs such as property taxes, insurance, HOA fees, and even mortgage insurance. It serves as an excellent reminder to help first-time homebuyers avoid the mistake of overspending. Trulia even reminds you to consider utility costs such as Internet, cable TV, and landline phone — if only to refer you to their affiliate partners.
Trulia is a great option if you value simplicity above a flood of features. See our complete Trulia review for more details about the platform.
In addition to displaying home listings, Redfin also serves as a real estate brokerage. That gives it several unique advantages in the war for homebuyers’ attention.
First, Redfin can offer close-to-live listing data from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), given its status as a broker. They update their data every five minutes, so new listings and updates appear faster than on Zillow and Trulia.
As a brokerage, Redfin also allows buyers to book showings directly through the website. That distinguishes it from Zillow and Trulia, which only allow users to send messages to the listing agent.
If you sign up with Redfin to represent you with a buyer’s agent, you also qualify for their “Redfin Refund.” The company says the average buyer receives $1,700 back at the settlement table, as they pass along part of the agent fee to help you with closing costs.
Redfin also offers an excellent affordability calculator, similarly comprehensive to Trulia’s in its scope.
Where Realtor.com really shines is its intuitive data mapping.
Yes, they provide listings and filters like the options above. As the official website of the National Association of Realtors, Realtor.com maintains a close relationship with the MLS, and its listing data tends to update faster than Zillow’s or Trulia’s.
But they also offer a polished, easy-to-use platform for viewing neighborhood crime rates, school districts, and transit information — all mapped for you with overlays. For example, when you turn on the crime view, it overlays your listing search with a heat map of crime rates. You can view real-time traffic data, public transit routes, or even bike lanes overlaid on your map. It’s a nifty and useful feature.
As you’d expect, they also offer an excellent matchmaking service to help you connect with the perfect real estate agent. What you might not expect is the wealth of other free resources, including an affordability calculator, rent vs. buy calculator, “Price Perfect” buying power calculator, and an easy mortgage comparison shopping platform.
The premise behind the Homesnap mobile app is simple: If you see a house for sale that you like, you snap a photo of it. Homesnap instantly pulls up the listing, property details, photos, sales history, agent information, and dozens of other details. With the click of a button, you can send the details to your agent to schedule a showing.
In other ways, it works similarly to Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. You can search neighborhoods, browse listings, save searches, and set up alerts when new listings come on the market.
One differentiator for Homesnap is that many real estate agents use it, and it features live MLS listing data. That means no delay for new listings or updates, so you can theoretically schedule showings or make offers faster than other homebuyers.
Homesnap also offers matchmaking to connect you with a perfect real estate agent if you don’t already have one.
Use Homesnap for its great mobile experience and its seamless communication with your real estate agent.
Hunting for a bargain?
Check out Auction.com for foreclosure auctions, bank-owned properties (“REOs” in real estate lingo), and auctions by owners. They boast more than 30,000 such homes available for sale at any given time and offer the largest online real estate auction platform in the U.S.
Keep in mind that these homes tend to require some TLC. Or, in some cases, complete renovation.
Be especially careful with foreclosure auctions. In most cases, you can’t access the inside of the property before bidding on foreclosures, which means you have little insight into the property’s condition. A word to the wise: Leave foreclosures to the pros.
You can sometimes find bargains among REOs and voluntary owner auctions. Just make sure you have financing lined up before bidding, because once you win an auction, you must settle quickly or forfeit your deposit.
A more recent entry in the online real estate world, Xome also features a wide range of homes at auction.
However, they take a slightly different approach, aiming to help buyers through the entire homebuying process as a one-stop shop. Like Redfin, Xome is itself a licensed real estate brokerage, and they can connect you with an in-house agent to walk you through the process. They also help you secure financing with direct lender partnerships.
Xome helps you order an appraisal and home inspection and eventually conducts the home settlement electronically, all online. Not everyone feels comfortable with handing so much of the process over to one company, and an all-virtual company at that. But for others, it’s a dream come true to let one company handle all homebuying functions for them.
To be clear, Roofstock isn’t designed for homebuyers. It’s designed for real estate investors.
That means that buyers can find discounted properties and deals on Roofstock, which specializes in turnkey real estate properties. Turnkey properties are habitable as-is, with no renovations required, although as a homeowner, you’ll probably want to make a few upgrades.
Roofstock offers a wealth of data about both the property itself and the neighborhood. For the property, you can usually view a home inspection report, along with the standard photos, amenities, and other listing details. And Roofstock picks apart the neighborhood’s pros and cons with investor-level efficiency.
For a complete breakdown of features, see our full Roofstock review.
City & Neighborhood Research
Although most of the resources above include some market-level data, they’re designed first and foremost to help you browse and filter home listings.
The following resources help you research and find the perfect neighborhood and city for your needs. From economic data like unemployment rates to demographic data like population growth, they offer a wealth of free information.
NeighborhoodScout provides real estate heat maps, demographic data, crime rates, and insights into local schools.
You can search by address, ZIP code, or city. It allows you to view both violent and property crime incidents, crime rates per 1,000 residents, and how crime in an area compares to state and national rates. The site also provides crime-rate mapping.
For an area’s demographic data, NeighborhoodScout breaks down population, age distribution, educational attainment, median income stats, top employer industries, ethnicity data, common ancestries and languages spoken, and more. Education data includes mapping the best school districts, average students per classroom, school enrollment, and district spending details.
It’s worth noting that NeighborhoodScout locks some information behind a paywall. For example, it costs money to view a school district’s test scores or detailed home appreciation data.
Still, the site offers a wealth of insights into any town or neighborhood for free and makes a great starting point for researching a new area.
A step up in both complexity and information, AreaVibes offers more data for free. They’re supported by ad and affiliate revenue, rather than reserving some information as premium.
So although the website can be visually chaotic and occasionally overwhelming, it doesn’t skimp on detail. From demographics to real estate and housing market data, income distributions to crime rates, school ratings to weather, AreaVibes tries to do it all. And they largely succeed.
One particularly useful feature is their letter grades. They assign each community a grade from A to F on livability, amenities, cost of living, crime, employment, housing, schools, and weather. You can then click on each for more details, but it helps you compare communities at a glance.
Continue your research at DataUSA.io, which lives up to its name by providing a ton of data. They offer detailed information about a town’s median income, median property values, median age, employment, and dozens of other data points.
Want to know the average salaries broken down by ethnicity for each job type in a certain town? Or by gender? Or by census tract? DataUSA offers all that and more for free.
It also offers insights into local health patterns, including insurance coverage, average health care spending, behavioral health, and patient-physician ratios. All of these come with visualizations to help you digest the data more intuitively.
DataUSA offers significantly more free information than NeighborhoodScout — so much so that it can be overwhelming, and it would take you hours to sift through all the data provided. But it’s well organized, and you can jump directly to sections like Economy, Health, Diversity, Education, or Housing & Living.
If you have children, schools are likely a high priority for choosing a city, neighborhood, and home. Although all of the above resources offer school data, none do it with the focus and elegance of GreatSchools.org.
This nonprofit website lets parents map schools and districts, with a simple 1 to 10 rating for each school. You can sort by public or private schools, and filter further by prekindergarten, elementary, middle, or high schools.
For each school, GreatSchools displays abundant details such as teacher-student ratios, student demographics, percentage of teachers with at least three years of experience, and student progress scores. They break down test scores by English, math, and science.
Best of all, they collect unbiased reviews from real parents, all publicly listed. It makes the process of choosing the right school transparent and easy, and the site even lets you browse real estate listings within each school’s district.
13. Walk Score
High walkability means having dozens of amenities at your doorstep. Restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery shopping, movie theaters, art galleries, public transportation — in the right location, you can walk to all of these within five or 10 minutes. It gives you the option to live without a car and the associated costs, which average roughly $9,300 every year according to AAA.
For your kids, a walkable neighborhood means not having to rely on you to get around. They can bike to their karate lesson or to school.
Enter: Walk Score. As the name suggests, they assign any given address a walkability score based on nearby amenities. You can also view amenities mapped out around a given address and get insights about commuting times.
Choosing highly walkable neighborhoods can improve both your savings rate and your quality of life. And when the day comes to think about aging in place, it will be much easier to do so without being dependent on a car.
14. Google Maps
You already know Google Maps. But it’s a surprisingly useful resource as you research new cities and neighborhoods.
It helps you map potential commutes, along with typical rush hour traffic delays. It helps you scope out nearby businesses and amenities like grocery stores and restaurants.
It also gives you a sense for what it looks and feels like in an area through Google Street View. When you’re moving to a new town where you’ve never been, getting a sense for both the geography and the “look” of a neighborhood helps you make better decisions and find the best fit.
Credit & Mortgages
Once you’ve found the perfect neighborhood, made an offer, and negotiated a price, you’ll likely need a mortgage. Most of us don’t have $200,000 sitting around collecting dust in our savings accounts.
Finding a loan is more transparent than ever thanks to publicly listed interest rates and terms. Try these free tools to help you score the best possible loan quickly and easily.
Everywhere you look, some website wants to offer you a free credit report. Be wary of these websites.
Instead, start your research into your own credit by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s the official website authorized by the federal government, where you can access your credit report for free once per year from each of the three largest credit bureaus.
This represents a “soft inquiry” and therefore doesn’t affect your credit score. These reports don’t include your actual credit score, but you can still get a sense for your credit with these free reports and forward them to loan officers while shopping around. Just make sure you don’t authorize multiple hard inquiries — only let the final lender run your credit report.
16. Credit Karma
Your credit isn’t static. It changes every month as you pay down your credit card balances, pay bills on time, and maintain all those other good financial behaviors of yours.
Because house hunting can take months or even years, it helps to use a credit monitoring service. They’ll notify you of changes to your credit and help you track your progress in improving it.
Most credit monitoring services cost money. But Credit Karma is completely free, earning their revenue with affiliate partners. In addition to credit monitoring, they offer personalized tips and suggestions for how you can improve your credit. And as a particularly nifty feature, they can simulate the change to your credit from financial decisions you’re considering, such as getting a new credit card.
See our full Credit Karma review for more details on how they can help you boost your credit.
LendingTree makes it easy to compare rates and fees and to generally shop around for the cheapest mortgage.
You submit the details of the loan you’re looking for, and then LendingTree displays a series of lenders. You can view lender pricing listed out for easy comparison, making it easy to find a mortgage with the lowest rate.
Well, sort of. The rates and fees you see listed are based on your stated credit score, income, and other qualifications. That pricing is not written in stone, and interest rates can change quickly.
But LendingTree makes your life easier with free, soft-inquiry credit reports, so you can start your negotiations with lenders with confidence about your score.
For more information, read our full LendingTree review.
Feeling a tad overwhelmed by the list above, and by finding a home in general?
Don’t fret. You don’t need to familiarize yourself with every single one of these tools. Pick one or two tools for researching neighborhoods, one or two for finding homes, and use the credit and mortgage resources as needed.
Don’t rush your homebuying decision. Homes are the largest assets most of us ever own, and yours will be with you for years, if not decades. Take your time, do your homework, and when in doubt, spend less than you think you can afford.
Happy house hunting!
What tools have you found helpful in your search for a new home? What features would you like to see in new homebuying resources?