A lot has been said about home buyers searching the internet for their next house. In March 2005, we were talking about it. [see March, 2005 post here]
More and more people are using the internet as a launchpad for their home search and we support that. Its important to note however that homes that are listed on the internet are frequently old listings. The status of each property is not always (rarely) posted online so, if there is already an open escrow - searchers end up with false hope.
My advice is to use the internet as a tool in addition to traditional homesearch methods. Its our experience is that websites are best used to elimate possible homes, not find them. Realtors are not photographers or talented writers; the descriptions posted on a listing often fail to tell the whole story and important information might be excluded that a buyer would have strong views on. Photos of properties aren't always the best. Sure, you can see what a house looks like and those 2 big trees in the front yard - but do they show the sedan sized hole in the living room wall?
If you want a 2 story house and you're looking at photos of one story homes, you know that you wont be interested in them and can eliminate those properties from your tour list. When you find a photo of your dream home, call your Realtor and find out if its still available and when you can see it. You'll gain more from using the internet as an addition to your home searching tool kit rather than your sole source of possible houses.
A fantastic use of the internet and something we recomend all clients do is educating yourself about neighborhoods, businesses, demographics, histories, etc in the areas you are looking at moving to. There are thousands of websites that will tell you where the best schools are, quiet parks, shopping centers, and more. You can also find out who your possible neighbors will be. If you're looking for a small town feeling - that dream home you found probably wont suit you if its in an urban city with half a million people.
Remeber, the internet is good - use it to the best of its abilities; but don't rely on all that you find. Trust your agent & if you find something your agent hasn't seen - let them know... They have AOL too.