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How to search for a house

Discover the top 5 best house hunting websites

by Rosemary Avance, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
aerial view of a suburban neighborhood

How to find a house

Looking for a home without a set plan can quickly become overwhelming. Follow these steps for your new home search:

  1. Calculate your budget
    In addition to your income, you’ll need to consider your monthly debt, liquid assets and credit score to figure out a realistic budget for your rent or mortgage payment. If you’re buying, check out our mortgage calculator to help.
  2. Decide where you want to live
    Think about the city or town you’d like to be in. You might choose based on proximity to a school, work or family. You should also consider the cost of living. During the research phase, it’s helpful to imagine yourself staying in this new location for five years or more. Moving is a lot of work. You won’t want to do it again anytime soon, so don’t consider a place you can’t see yourself staying for a while.
  3. Determine if you want to buy or rent
    You might rent for a while to get to know a new area or as a way of saving up some extra capital for a down payment on a house. You can generally find both apartments and houses to rent. Since buying is a bigger commitment, be sure to spend a lot of time in the research phase if you plan to buy.
  4. Decide if you want a house, apartment or condo
    Your choice depends mostly on your lifestyle and budget. If you want to live in the heart of a city, for instance, look for an apartment or condo, depending on whether you want to rent (apartment) or buy (condo). If you prefer to have some more space outside of a downtown area and extra perks like a yard, you’ll want to look for a house. Once you decide the type of dwelling you’d like, you’ll narrow down your options quite a bit.
  5. Search online for a new home
    There are tons of online resources that help renters and buyers find exactly what they’re looking for. Check out our guide to real estate websites for more information if you’re planning on buying. It’s a good idea to look at multiple sites to see what homes are available in your area, since some may only be listed in one place.
couple sitting on a couch looking at a laptop

5 Best house hunting websites

Here are some of the best sites for finding a new home:

  • Trulia
    Trulia is a great resource with tons of information on homes to rent or buy, covering apartments, houses and rooms for rent. It also provides information on schools and neighborhoods to help make your research easier.
  • Zillow
    Zillow lets you search for homes or apartments based on your preferences for things like square footage, amenities and neighborhood walkability. For instance, if you’ve always wanted a pool, you can use that as a filter in your search criteria.
  • Apartmentlist
    If you’re looking for an apartment, this site can help narrow your search. It guides you through a matching tool where you input your preferences and price range, then suggests apartments to meet your needs.
  • HomeFinder.com
    Use this site to search for homes or apartments as well as foreclosures and auctions. Enter a zip code or city, your minimum and maximum price range, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want and the type of residence you’re interested in to see what’s available near you.
  • Realtor.com
    This site is a great place to find homes and apartments for sale or rent. You can also use it to research property values for recently sold homes in a particular area if you’re trying to get a feel for an area’s cost of living or are considering listing your home soon.
elementary students lined up to get on the school bus

Research your new community

Once you’ve found some potential houses or apartments, you're not quite done. You don't want to regret your decision because you didn't research your community. Here's what you should consider:

  • Crime rate
    Learn about the safety of the area you’re considering, and think about whether it has a higher crime rate than you’re comfortable with. You can often find statistics on crime in an area by searching on a city’s official website. You should also visit the neighborhood and surrounding areas (if you can) to see how comfortable you feel.
  • Commute
    Does the potential area have a public transportation system you like? If you’ll be driving to and from work, how far is the new home? What will traffic be like during your commute? Take some time to figure out your best route to work, and find a home that makes traveling to work feasible.
  • Schools
    If you have kids, learn about the schools in the area of your potential new home before you make your decision. Search online for school rankings, standardized test scores and reviews from parents. As you get closer to finalizing your decision, meet with the principal and set up a time for your child to sit in on classroom instruction. This can help you and your child get a better feel for the school community.
  • Community
    Think about what community features matter to you or your family. You may want an area with a great library, beautiful public parks, a wide selection of places of worship, diverse residents, an active nightlife, an arts district or any other community elements that matter to you.
  • Home adaptability
    If you’re planning on staying in your new home for a number of years, imagine how your family or lifestyle may change in that time. Is the home adequate for your long-term plans?

Bottom line

It’s tempting to shortchange all the research and work that goes into selecting a new place to live. Even though it’s exhausting, you’ll thank yourself for putting in the extra effort when you find the right fit. When you’ve narrowed down your search, found a few prospects online and researched their communities, you’re ready to visit some potential homes. And as you continue to plan your big move, be sure to check out our moving resources for extra help.

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by Rosemary Avance, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Rosemary Avance, Ph.D., uses her social science research background as a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team to help people make smart choices. She researches products, businesses and industries thoroughly, then passes on the most relevant and essential information for consumers looking to make important purchasing decisions.