I am meeting with new clients this weekend about selling their lovely home. The odd thing is that they just bought this home a few months ago. I do not have all the details as of yet, but I do know that my new clients bought the house site unseen and moved here from 900 miles away. They utilized one of our national consumer real estate websites to buy the home and the listing agent's office was in Seattle 160 miles away from here.
I won't opine any further on this specific case, but in general my belief is that national websites such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, etc. are excellent tools for people searching for homes especially when looking at far away destinations. That is where their practical benefit ends however. There is no substitute for a local pro that understands the nuances of neighborhoods and the other important issues that face homeowners in a new region.
Once a buyer thinks they have narrowed it down to a few homes they want to see, or even offer on, a local pro should be contacted other than the listing agent. It is important not only to have a local agent that understands the local market, but also an agent unaffiliated with the seller. A listing agents greatest obligation is to the seller for which he has a signed contract with statutory language. The listing agent will pay the buyer's agent commission so the buyer is in much better shape using their own agent.
It is important to take the time to ensure you are buying the best house for you at the best price possible and with favorable terms. Buying a home and then having to sell it three months later is rarely a profitable exercise. Buyers need to be sure they have all the proper information before buying a house.
If you find a home on one of the national websites, there are usually buyer's agents listed. Sometimes there will be a preferred or premier, et al. agent. These agents have likely paid the company money for placement. There may also be a few random agents listed that have a profile on the system and list that area as their area of expertise. Be sure to visit the agent's profile before contacting them.
There is no better asset to a home buyer than a local professional looking out for the buyer's best interests, not the seller's.