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Use National Real Estate Sites for Info -- Get Local for Deep Research

05/07/2015 01:34 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

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Looking for a home to buy? If so, you can't find a better place to start, and likely end, your search than the Internet. Almost everything you need to know to zero in on a few top-of-the-list homes for consideration is on one or more websites. The national sites like Zillow.com and Realtor.com are extremely popular. Buyers, sellers and investors use these sites to gather information about homes for sale, as well as homes already sold and valuations.

There is plenty of contradictory information out there about the accuracy of these major portal sites, but most of us can agree that their bells and whistles make using them a great research strategy. From detailed information to aerial view maps of neighborhoods, there is plenty of stuff to see. I definitely agree that these sites are of value for real estate information gathering.

In this article I want to tell you about something a bit more local, and it's a tool you definitely want to add to your home search resources. It's called the IDX, Internet Data Exchange, an agreement between local real estate brokers to allow other brokers and agents to display their listings on their websites. In other words, you no longer need to go to each site to see what they have listed in the market. The local MLS, Multiple Listing Service, member brokers set up IDX so that site visitors can find all of the local MLS listings on every site using IDX. You can recognize one of these sites by the IDX logo and disclaimer on the search page.

The listings are normally updated at least daily, and the information is the most accurate you'll find. The MLS rules strictly regulate how agents enter the listing info and there are penalties for errors, bad directions, and waiting too long for updating listing information when it changes. In fact, it's this MLS info that feeds much of what you see at Realtor.com.

There are some really feature-rich IDX search pages out there. You see, the IDX data feed can be used by third party vendors to create custom search routines and displays for brokerage sites. There are many doing this, and the competition is delivering some great tools for searchers.

• School and neighborhood information.
• Ability to save searches.
• Feature to save favorite listings.
• A sharing function to send to friends.
• Ability to create email listing alerts.
• Customized map area searches.

Sure, you'll have to register and provide your email address for some features, and you'll probably be contacted by an agent. However, you're in control, so just enjoy the features and tell the agent you'll be ready to talk when you're ready.

Use the offered features to build a trove of information about homes of interest. Many of these IDX sites also allow you to set up a showing from the listing. Here is where caution is warranted. If you're working with a buyer agent, or if you want to, be sure to let the listing agent know this from the beginning.

It's not advertised, but commission disputes between agents are a fact of life. You don't want your buyer agent to end up in a dispute with a listing agent based on what the business calls "procuring cause." Each agent is claiming that they were the reason you ended up considering this listing, and the dispute may result in a split or lost commission. Always be clear as to whether you're working with a buyer agent, and really they should set up your showings.

Check out IDX pages on local real estate websites and use the one that offers the most features for your needs.

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