Netting a House
While Charlotte real estate isn't slumping as badly as the rest of the nation's, we're typical in one regard: 84 percent of home buyers here and in the rest of the nation used the Internet to search for their last home. "Locally, we've seen the transition to Web-based home shopping and sales ratchet up in the past five years," says Brian Pace, 2008 president of the Charlotte Homebuilding Association and partner with Pace Development Group. "Now people can research floor plans, school systems, and amenities before ever setting foot inside a home." But the larger the information superhighway, the easier it is to get lost. Consider us your GPS: here are a few sites, which offer everything from finding out local building codes to prescreening potential neighbors, that can make your hunt a happy one.
Best for: nondrivers
Whether you never got a license or are sick of draining your savings account to fill your tank, this site is a pedestrian's best friend. Plug in an address, and it'll score the neighborhood on its foot friendliness, from Walker's Paradise to Car Dependent, and turn up the local businesses and attractions within strolling distance. (FYI: Foxcroft scored a, um, two out of 100 while Myers Park scored a thirty-six out of 100.)
Best for: drivers
Make sure your move won't double your daily commute by checking out the real-time traffic conditions on this site. You can check your drive time to and from work, scope out ongoing construction, and be alerted to nearby traffic hotspots.
Best for: the civic minded
Surf over to this virtual town square, which delivers geographically pertinent news and community info, from (if you dare) restaurant inspections to the newest books on your town's library shelves. Besides being quaint, it's also a useful way to unearth tough-to-find civic info such as building permits.
Best for: anyone but hermits
Sure, the house may be perfect, but you might not be so hasty to bid if you knew a nudist lived next door. Before you buy, check out the zany but fascinating reports on this site, which gathers the goods on everything from who owns a family of pit bulls to who mows their lawn before 7 a.m. every Saturday. And has for the last five years.
Best for: realtor-phobes
Don't want to deal with an agent? Cut out the middleman at this site, which has a searchable database of properties by city or ZIP code. You can also get e-mail notification of new listings.
Best for: laughing about it when it's all over
It's Lovely! I'll Take It!
Take a look at some of the unfortunate real estate listings you won't be going to see (3 beds, 2.5 baths, view of nuclear plant), and breathe a sigh of relief.
Best for: big-picture people
Use the free software to navigate satellite images and see what lurks beyond your potential future property line. The aerial view is ideal for scoping out undesirable features that may not be apparent at first glance: major highways, intrusive power lines, cell towers, and more. Use the Street View feature to get a curbside preview and rule out any listings across from, say, a firehouse or hospital.
Best for: politicos
It's an election year, and if you'd rather not be subjected to staring across the street at a lawn spiked with campaign signs for a candidate you can't stand, this site lets you search for a politically like-minded block. Also listed: FBI crime stats, census data, and local property values.