How to Make the Most of Zillow.com

Jordan

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Photo by Ярослав Алексеенко on Unsplash

When it comes to investing, it would be an understatement to say that we’re living in merely interesting times. Thanks to the collective boredom of the youth, the stock market has become a high-powered slot machine powered by memes.

But despite the ups and downs of the stock market, there’s one place on which I can always rely; my beloved property market.

I adore the property market for being the slow, dependable option that can still go just a bit wild, usually the moment you think you’ve got it all figured out.

If you saw Dan Levy’s episode of SNL, then you’ll know how some of us feel about browsing for properties online…

(Seriously, if you haven’t seen this sketch, watch it now. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life).

But if you’re not someone who views listings for sexual pleasure, perhaps you do it in search of a great investment. Searching for an incredible investment online can be exciting and rewarding, but you’ve got to do it right if you’re serious about finding your next gem.

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Screenshot from Zillow

Ignore the Headline Properties

A lot of people can find themselves easily taken in by the top-billed listings that advertise the properties you’re supposed to see.

These houses are often recent listings that are priced high and are built in already trendy locations.
As an investor, you never want to focus on locations that are already in high demand. People waste hundreds of thousands of dollars chasing trendy neighbourhoods that have already hit their peak. Instead, look where demand hasn’t struck yet, but where it may strike sometime in the next 10 years.

You can always spot excellent up and coming locations by thinking logically and without local bias.

Some cities drive me mad, because the trendiest locations are often dirty back-alleys, filled with graffiti and an apparent “art scene.” Look past fads, and force yourself to look for tangible assets. Where’s the beach? Are there any good schools? How is the crime rate?
You’re buying something you want people to pay to live in, not a cool hangout for you and your bohemian friends.

Have you stumbled across a small city that sits right on the ocean but doesn’t have a cruise ship terminal yet? Or a highway connecting it to a major city?You may have found an undiscovered gem.

Especially if you live in Australia or New Zealand, you can often find yourself stumbling across undiscovered gems while taking road trips or visiting relatives.
So long as the city you’re discovering not so small that the tenant demand is non-existent, it could have everything you need.

A city with a high demand for affordable living (perhaps brought on my local universities or factories) should have great properties to look out for. From there, you can look for schools and other amenities. You should also check local government plans for future development, and scour the internet for people’s impressions of the area.

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Screenshot from Zillow

Start your search from the back

Listings that suit logic and ignore trends are seldom featured in banners, and need to be searched for.

I always love to search from the back page of listing websites and work my way forward. Property owners who have been stuck with their unwanted house for months are often eager to hear an offer, even a blood-sucking one.

In saying that, my intention is not to encourage people to take advantage of others in an intentionally mean-spirited way. But I always encourage people to make bold offers, and give those offers to people who are genuinely motivated to sell at a good price.

If you do start searching from the back, skip past the kit-homes, managed apartments and lease-holds, and eventually you’ll get to the fixer-uppers.

These houses should be very reasonably priced because there’s some work to be done. Make sure that what needs doing can be done inexpensively, and there’s nothing wrong with the foundations of the house. Bring in a builder, and find out exactly how much time and money it will take to make the place comfortable for tenants.

As long as you can make a low enough offer, spending a bit of money to refurbish can still keep the property positively geared. The important thing to remember is that you only need to make the place liveable, you’re not building a palace. So forget the marble countertops, and keep your focus on the paint-job, heating, carpeting, curtains, and anything else that matters.

If you’re buying something that needs work, remember that an aggressive offer can mean the difference between buying something profitable, and buying a money pit. Spending less up front allows for more spending once the place is yours.

Dealing with Agents

Keep in mind that if you’re favouring listings at the back of the website, you may have to get in touch that realtors that have all but forgotten the property you’re interested in.

If you’ve found a gem that’s been sitting on the market for a year, the realtor may or may not be someone that’s doing their best to move the property.

Many times they are, and you could have no trouble getting in touch with them. But occasionally you’ll have to deal with some duds, and when that happens, you’ll have to remind yourself why it’s worth it.

The quality of the realtor has no bearing on the quality of the property.

Even if it feels as though you’re begging this person to take your money, it will be worth it if you’ve done your calculations and you are in fact positively geared.

Check your numbers, and make sure they’re perfect, even if the people you’re dealing with aren’t.
If calling and harassing is what it takes to stay in communication and move the process along, then you’re going to have to roll your sleeves up and get it done. Far better to do some extra work now, and reap the reward for years to come.

Lasagne

Buying a property is always hard work, and there can be many times throughout the process that you want to just give up. But while most properties are a bad choice because they’ll cost you too much to own and maintain, some properties out there are actually great investments.

For the select few houses out there, the numbers work perfectly and snapping them up will yield you an income that grows spectacularly over time. If you’ve found something like that, then the work and all the stress will be worth it.

Use property websites properly by starting from the back, checking lots of houses, and crunching your numbers.

Work hard to stay in communication with realtors, even the ones that seem adverse to making money for themselves. Make sure a builder inspects your prospective house and gives you realistic costs for what it will take to make the place comfortable for a tenant who’s paying the amount of money you want to charge for living in the house.

The process isn’t worth it for most houses, but if you’ve found something special, then push yourself to get it done.

Like with a great lasagne, the time and effort will pay off.

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I’m a well travelled writer who loves nothing more than a well polished video game, an expertly crafted sandwich, and a hot mug of Milo.

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