I have seen some broker sites that let you search within a neighborhood and I absolutely love that feature. The same site describes the neighborhood & lets you search that area.
There is one feature that I would really like that I never see: the ability to sort by TYPE of waterfront. For example, you may be searching for canal front and have to wade thru a LOT of lake front. And you generally have to go to listing details ie click into listing info, to discover that it is lake front, not canal front.
Speed counts. Slow response times will negate the advantage of extra sort features.
Since searching by map is impt to me, I frequently toggle back and forth btwn a site like Zillow and Realtor.com. If realtor.com inludes a brokers web site, then I will go there to get more info on a property that interests me. It amazes me that many listings on Realtor.com include a brokers name and number with no web reference.
Thanks for the question.
But I also have my realtor keep an eye out for properties that are not on the MLS yet. I think there a lot of sales out there that happen before or soon after listing and I don't want to miss any opportunities.
I honestly don't pay attention to room dimensions. I look at total SF but rarely focus on individual rooms. A floor plan would help me to focus. Also, the only way to get the "flow" of the house is a floor plan. That would be nice.
I agree with Andrew that good photos are important. One thing I recommend sellers do when interviewing agents is to ask for links to recent listings to view the photos or virtual tours to see the quality.
One of the features that I like about it is that it lists the dimesnions of all of the rooms. That's great because when the description says "huge living room!" I can look and see that the dimensions are 12X12.
Other online features that I like:
the map feature
search by zipcode
search by neighborhood
search by open house
search by square footage
list of maintenance fees
details about the house such as whether it is electric or gas, what kind of exterior it has
One thing that's difficult to find is a way to search by community / neighborhood - that would be a nice feature to say "show me all the homes in XYZ community".
What I have done in the past is start out with some early scoping studies -- I filter based on minimum number of bedrooms/bathrooms, neighborhood, and price range (+- 20% around ideal cost, say). Then, I reduce based on other criteria -- e.g. lot size, condition, rooms too small, undersirable block, etc (assuming this information is available). Both map and straight list view are useful for this -- if I had to choose one, it would be map, but most sites allow both.
My biggest complaint is the quality of the pictures -- I depend on these tremendously to get a feel for the house and for whatever reason most look like they were taken by an amateur at dusk with no flash and little attempt to even declutter. They also usually give little feeling of the lot size, house spacing, surrounding homes, etc. Every now and then I see a good virtual tour but more often then not I don't even try to draw any conclusions until I see the candidate house live. When I have my short list I do some drive-bye's, reduce the list further, visit open houses if I'm lucky. At that point I try to find a neighborhood-specific agent and take it from there. Usually the agent has some ideas that I didn't notice on the web, and steers me away from some that had looked appealing, educates me on the neighborhood, lets me know what is overpriced in their view and what is a good deal, etc. At this point I'm usually ready to make an offer. If not, I really appreciate the automatic email updates on price changes, new properties, etc.
What annoys me more than anything is missing information -- room sizes, address, days on market, lot size, year of construction, etc. I really like to know this for all properties.