Heat maps equate to hot property
Does it make more sense to buy or rent a home where you live? Three websites help provide answers.
I recently made the decision to continue renting as opposed to rushing into homeownership. Of course, my ultimate goal is to own my own home and I've been tenaciously working toward this goal for more than a year.
However, the more I research renting versus purchasing a home, the more resources I find that confirm I've made the right choice. Three great online sources of information I've found offer maps that use "hot spots" or "heat maps" to indicate the prices of homes in a neighborhood, city, county, or state: Trulia.com, FinestExpert.com and HotPads.com.
Finding the truth with Trulia. One benefit to using Trulia is that it lists properties all over the country, not just those in large metropolitan areas. From Maine to California, Trulia lists properties for sale and rent.
The feature I like the most is the "Heat" map. I might be a bit biased on this particular feature given that I love staring at maps, but the color coding overlay helps a user determine an area's affordability.
For example, in Los Angeles County, dark red areas indicate homes priced at $654,000 and up, while a dark green patch equates to homes below $280K. In Mesa, Ariz., dark red indicates homes above $198K and dark green shows homes below $85K.
Trulia also compares rental prices and median purchase prices in individual cities and determines which is a better financial option in a rent-vs.-buy ratio report. A recent report showed that owning a home in Minneapolis; Phoenix; San Antonio; and the California cities of Sacramento, Long Beach and Fresno is a better option than renting. However, it makes more sense to rent in Omaha; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and New York. The Rent vs. Buy Index is based on a two-bedroom condo/townhouse/apartment.
FinestExpert is just fine for me. FinestExpert was created specifically with real estate investors in mind. However, anyone in the market for purchasing or renting a home could benefit from the information they've gathered.
Once you type in the specifics you are looking for -- square footage, bedrooms and baths, and the city -- a map appears with color-coded teardrop-shaped icons identifying homes for sale. Dark red teardrops represent a good investment, meaning it's a home that could be fixed up, then used as rental income or resold. A dark blue teardrop represents a "dream home," a home an investor would want to live in instead. The higher the score, the better the investment opportunity.
In my experience, the maps are a bit quirky: Sometimes it takes awhile to load and other times it gets stuck on an area. It's also not easy to find the definitions of the color coding. The site is still in beta testing mode, and I think it still needs to work out some of the bugs. However, it's worth checking out to view data.
HotPads is on fire. HotPads offers a rent-vs.-buy calculator and yet another interactive map. In my opinion, this map rocks the other maps by far. It's not nearly as quirky as some others I've found and it compares rent with purchase price right there on the screen. Trends and charts are easily available at the click of a mouse. It also hosts a heat map where color codes indicate real estate markets hardest hit by foreclosure.
If you're looking to move, using any of these tools to help gauge the local market could be helpful. Not only could these maps be used to help negotiate a better purchase price, but they'll also help you determine if renting is a better option in the short run or long run.
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