Finding a Home
The search form that I would recommend would be the "Customize Your Search" feature listed above. In addition to the usual items that you can input, there's a box for "other desires" that can include many items that you don't traditionally find on any of the usual publicly accessible home finding sites. To see a few examples of the many possibilities I have as an agent, go here.
If you'd rather not go with that option, there are some alternatives. Here is a home finder of the main MLS for Hampton Roads where if you'd like, you can give me access to seeing what you are searching. There are a few features that are nice about that, including the fact that it's directly from MLS, thus more accurate information than sites like Zillow, you can zoom in on a map to reveal flood zones, and you can draw a shape around precisely what area you'd like to look in. Here is a commercial property finder.
You'll see a home finder by Greg Garrett Realty here and more places to find a home here. You can also find homes on Realtor.com, Zillow.com, and Trulia.com. Among Zillow, Trulia, & Realtor.com, Realtor.com appears to be the most accurate. However, searching via the MLS directly is the most accurate, whether through your Realtor or on your own. Among those, Zillow is the best for finding the quality of the neighborhood. Among those, I like the crime feature of Trulia the most. It's best to both look for homes on your own and to give detailed search criteria to your real estate agent so that they can search as well. Your agent can get the most accurate information, run the most comprehensive search, etc. By using a buyer's agent, you can often avoid many mistakes that unrepresented buyers can more easily make. If I am your buyer's agent, you won't be paying me a penny for my services in the vast majority of cases. I've never had an exception, although there are some cases where a for sale by owner seller will not offer a buyer's agent commission. Buyer's agents generally get paid by the proceeds of the sale of a home by the seller.
Cities/Counties Value Proposition When Considering Appreciation, Home Prices, & Taxes:
If taxes are going to help you determine what city or county you will move to, click here for rates. Keep in mind that tax rates vary substantially between Hampton Roads cities & counties, with some cities/counties being less than half the tax rates of others. Taxes are particularly important if considering a cash purchase, using a large down payment, & for those considering eventually paying off their mortgage. The average rate of inflation from 1913-2013 was 3.22%. Appreciation rates of homes is generally at or a little over that of the rate of inflation over time. The average rate of home appreciation, according to Zillow, is between 3 and 5%. That amount is below the tax rates of any city or county in Hampton Roads and below the average for even the worst states for real estate taxes.
In Hampton Roads, lower tax rates tend to correspond to higher average home values & better school districts according to Great Schools. For instance, in the Kiln Creek neighborhood, I have lived on the Newport News side of it in the Dunhill community as well as the Yorktown side of it in the Avery Woods community. For the same house in the Yorktown side of Kiln Creek, you will generally be paying more than on the Newport News side. At the time of this writing, when I ran a search for 4 bed 2 and a half bath properties sold in Kiln Creek in the past year, the highest price property in Newport News sold for less than the lowest price property in Yorktown, as you can see here. The price of Kiln Creek Yorktown properties from that list was 31% more on average per square foot. When comparing the same criteria for Yorktown & Seaford versus Newport News for the past 30 days throughout the cities, the average difference is 30% more per square foot (at the time of this writing).
Conversely, the real estate taxes of Newport News are 53% higher than those of York County. If school districts are not a priority at all, & assuming that the tax rates won't rise (although they generally do over time), & assuming that Kiln Creek is an average representative of a comparison of Newport News & Yorktown, & assuming that appreciation rates this year will be 4% in Newport News & Yorktown, someone buying the same house in Yorktown would be paying lower taxes and achieving higher appreciation. That said, for those not buying in cash, the smaller the down payment, the higher the percentage of the mortgage that will go toward interest at the beginning stages of the loan, especially for 30 year loans. That means that for owner occupants who can afford the same home in Newport News & Yorktown that they would like, if putting 5% down, and only planning on living there for 5 years prior to selling, it might be a better value proposition to buy in Hampton or Newport News than Yorktown, all other factors the same. Choosing location is about a lot more than just the value proposition between sales price, financing, & taxes though, and includes factors like where you work, crime ratings, and otherwise.
Also, for those who are professional investors or who have otherwise had great success in investing in various capacities, some might prefer to have more liquid capital available for investments even if they have the cash to purchase the kind of home that they would want in any city in Hampton Roads. For those who have had much success investing, it is still important to factor in tax ramifications, since profits from an owner-occupied home sale which is not used for business purposes, after 2 years of occupancy within a 5 year period, in many cases do not require taxes on the profits. That said, I am not a CPA and such taxable ramifications should be discussed with your accountant.
It's important to note that the increase in property values in Yorktown versus Newport News per square foot does not correspond directly with higher rental prices at the same level as the increase in sales price. Running the same 4 bed 2.5 bath search in Newport News & York County, the York County properties were only 9% higher per square foot on average to rent. That is one of the reasons why many investors that I work with opt to focus their searches in areas of lower average home value despite the higher tax rates due to the higher potential cashflow per dollar that appears to be the case both from my father's expert opinion as well as my own calculations when purchasing in cash. Because the lower priced homes have higher ROI when using cash, when using financing, the difference in ROI is even greater in favor of Newport News versus Yorktown for investors who would like to be landlords. That said, the statistical differences are not significant enough to exclude Yorktown properties from investor searches for those with the capital to buy in Yorktown, as a good enough deal in Yorktown could be better than the relatively small average difference in return on investment for cash purchases.
You can compare school districts here. Explore the Hampton Roads area by going to a simple guide I made here or a Powerpoint I made for the peninsula attractions here. See a much broader range of the things to do in the area here and type in what you're looking for followed by the city and state. Maps.google.com is another good resource. City Data gives a wide variety of statistical information about cities, and in many cases, even smaller areas, from average income levels, to crime, & otherwise. Zillow is a solid resource as well for getting an idea of the past or forecasted appreciation rate in a particular zip code , city, or state.
In addition to the home itself being in good shape, areas are very important as well. While you can change the condition of a house, you are not able to change the area much at all in most cases. The following video should be very helpful to that end:
To achieve the highest accuracy when searching, especially to know whether a home is on the market or not, it is usually best to look directly from MLS.
The only exception is usually For Sale By Owner properties where sometimes that are not listed on the MLS. From MLS you can view properties, create your own searches based on your criteria, etc. If you’d like me to setup an additional list based on other criteria, let me know. The options that I have are much more extensive than what is available to the public, even on the Matrix portal. When looking on the matrix portal, “Pend” means that a property is pending sale, and a "C" by itself stands for a contingency, meaning that it’s under contract but that there is some form of contingency. If you see “1st right of refusal” or something similar besides "contingencies", that means that while it’s under contract, you can still submit an offer that is higher than the contract price and possibly get the house. One thing to keep in mind is that most agents don’t like to disclose the contract price, especially if it is under the list price. When it says, “Home/EIFS Insp. Con.", or something else beside contingencies without saying something along the lines of “1st right of refusal” that means that it’s under contract with another buyer, and I recommend not seeing any property that is under contract with another buyer unless the 1st right of refusal provision is in place and I have contacted the agent to verify that there is sufficient time before it is planned to be removed. Another thing to keep in mind is that while Matrix is the most accurate website to see if a property is available, agents do not always update it as promptly as they should, so while the agent view may show that a property is under contract through means not available to the public, there are still cases where it could be under contract without showing it on the agent Matrix view.