Eleven years ago, when we bought our condo, there was almost no benefit in searching on the Web. We waited for the Saturday Boston Homes and nagged our realtor about new listings. A few real-estate firms may have had one online photo for a few of their listings, but that's all. So we spent evenings and weekends following our broker from one unsuitable condo to the next. I think we saw about about 60 until we found one that had Victorian detail and wooden floors, could hold our books, and wasn't a basement.
As I've said before, Boston Homes is still my favorite fantasy reading. But, these days, sites like Redfin make it a snap to see practically everything that's for sale in any neighborhood. You specify location, size, price, and a few other variables — and you're off. You can usually see the equivalent of a listing sheet (detailing more features, the unit's location within the building, taxes, condo fees, etc.) and enough photos to give you a clear sense of whether the place might be right for you. Now that I'm caught up on exploring all the listings that have remained unsold since last year or longer, I can quickly check for new listings that were just posted today.
You can select an age range for units when you search, too, but that's unreliable: realtors often have no idea of when a building was built and will often date a 19th-century building from the year it was converted to condos. I've also seen buildings from the 1920s to '40s labeled "Victorian." Realtors are often as clueless about Boston's historic neighborhoods as many of the residents are.
After checking out hundreds of condos from Coolidge Corner to Charlestown, I feel like a Peeping Tom. I saved a ton of time and shoeleather but, best of all, I didn't have to drag my patient-but-suffering spouse along. So far, we've checked out three addresses in person; two came pretty close to being The One.
More relief: not needing to invent cheerful lies about positive features I'd dredge up in even the most hideous apartments, hoping that my chatter would give my realtor a false sense that I'm not as picky as I am. (More on that subject soon.)