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Get the Most Out of Trulia, Zillow, and Real Estate Sites

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As with so many aspects of moving, the Internet simplifies the home search process. Rather than spending hours every weekend trolling neighborhoods, hop online to see your options first. We found the best hacks for Zillow, Trulia, and realtor.com to simplify your search, find the best deals, and land the home of your dreams faster.

1. Search all three major real estate sites — Zillow, Trulia, and realtor.com — to broaden your options.

FitSmallBusiness.com advises realtors not to advertise on all three sites in order to save money by avoiding duplicate leads. What this means to homebuyers is that it pays to search all three sites so you don't miss a single home. After a few searches, however, you may realize agents in your area rely on one site over the other two. Once you figure this out, you can start narrowing your search.

Keep in mind that realtor.com, as well as Redfin, get their listings from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and are updated every 15 minutes. But these sites don't always offer more in-depth information, such as addresses, that may be found on Zillow or Trulia.

2. Use saved searches to find out when new homes meeting your criteria hit the listings.

Let listings come to you. Gain the advantage over other homebuyers when you sign up to have homes that meet specific criteria emailed to you as soon as they are listed. Then you don't have to stay on these sites around the clock in fear of missing out.

3. Organize your search.

Not only can you save searches on Trulia, but you can organize them based on different parameters. Save homes in different areas, with specific features (such as a swimming pool or two-car garage), at different listing prices, or with virtually any parameters you set, to compare your options.

4. Use a monthly payment calculator to determine how much you can afford.

Online mortgage calculators may be old news, but it's handy to access one without leaving the search site. The sites also offer rent versus buy calculators, which take into account your income tax rate and expected mortgage interest rate to help you make the best financial decision.

Remember, online calculators don't paint a full financial picture. Most include costs such as homeowners insurance, principal, interest, and taxes. However, they don't factor in utility costs, home repairs, homeowners' association fees/condo fees, private mortgage insurance, or other incidentals that come with homeownership. By the same token, your rental costs will vary depending on whether or not utilities are included.

5. Don't be afraid to venture out of your price range when you're shopping.

The cost of a house is negotiable, and sellers often raise the listing prices assuming buyers will haggle. Depending on the area, you can safely search as high as $50,000 or more above what you're prepared to pay. Compare listing prices and history with the final price of homes that sold recently in that area to determine how much bargaining power you may have.

Similarly, if a home you love is well out of your price range today, that doesn't mean the seller won't reduce the price tomorrow. Study the listing history. If the seller recently dropped the price substantially, or made small, incremental reductions over the past few months, they could be willing to go even lower.

6. Use value estimate tools to see what other homes in the area sold for recently.

When you've found a home you're ready to make an offer on, estimate tools are the best things you can look at to make sure you're being reasonable. Consider both the Trulia estimate and the Zillow estimate (called a Zestimate) when you make an offer. Ultimately, the mortgage appraiser determines how much the home is worth, and how much of a mortgage you'll qualify for, but these tools will help give you a good ballpark range.

7. Go "local" on Trulia, Zillow, and realtor.com.

A click on the local tab at any of these popular home search sites reveals a wealth of information. Discover market trends, commuting times, crime statistics, demographics, school ratings, recent photos of a region, and more.

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Image by Trulia/Flickr (resized)

Realtor.com offers an overview of life in a particular city with infographics showing things like a cost-of-living comparison, weather patterns, demographics, top career, the unemployment rate, and information for renters. Dive deeper to find out how long people stay in an area, the median income, and virtually anything else you may want to know about a place before moving there.

8. Use the mobile apps to bring your search with you when you're house hunting.

All three major listing sites have apps for Android and iOS, providing much of the same functionality as the websites. Access saved searches to compare your options, search for Open Houses while you're driving around an area, or contact an agent if you'd like to schedule an appointment while you're in the neighborhood.

9. Sign on with Facebook to save time.

Avoid having to remember another login and password by signing onto any of these sites through Facebook for added convenience.

10. Read the site's blogs to learn about buying a home before you ink the deal.

From figuring out how to finance your dream home to determining which improvements should take priority, each site offers a wealth of information about buying, selling, or fixing up homes. Browse the sites, but don't get caught in "information overload." Part of the joy of homeownership is learning as you go. Then you can come back to imove.com and share what worked for you in the comments below.

11. Don't limit your search to online listings.

Real estate listing sites streamline your home search, but adding conventional tools to the mix ensures you cover all your bases. Local papers and real estate listing magazines, Craigslist, and even a call to a local realtor or a drive around the neighborhood where you want to live may reveal options you didn't find online. Online real estate listing services are big business, but they won't replace realtors any time soon.

"I'm not going to find you the house... I'm going to get it for you," Zillow's Director of Communications Katie Curnette said, describing how her real estate agent explained the home buying process in the Internet age. "We'd find a listing and he'd take us there that night."

A good realtor walks you through the home buying process and helps you get the best price on the house. Follow these tips to navigate Trulia, Zillow, and Realtor.com and find that house even faster.

Featured image by Loozrboy/Flickr