Best Website for Home Buying? Ask Your Local Expert

It’s a modern way to buy a home, but what do you sacrifice when you shop for a house online? Local real estate agent Jim Shaffer sheds some light.

If you’re ready to start looking for a new home, it’s tempting to seek out the best website for home buying. After all, we use the internet to buy pretty much everything else from diapers to SUVs. And there are plenty of online real estate portals to choose from: Zillow,, and Redfin are just a few — and the information you can find online is pretty extensive.

But what are you sacrificing by using an online real estate portal? “These sites have become competitors to the small, local real estate professionals and they have become mainstream,” says Jim Shaffer, owner of Jim Shaffer and Associates (JSA) in Royal Oak. “But there are downsides to buying your home online, and some of them can be costly to the home buyer.”

You may want to hold off on signing on the dotted line. As much as buying the wrong family car is costly and disappointing, buying the wrong house can be a catastrophic mistake.

Your local real estate agent brings a wealth of expertise and experience specific to the city you’d like to call home. Even down to the neighborhood level, a good real estate professional can provide personalized advice that you’d never get from an online service.

Read on for more compelling reasons you should connect with a local real estate agent instead of searching for the best website for home buying.

You’re looking for the best schools

Families often choose one town over another because they are looking for something specific in the local school district, and everyone is looking for something different. “Some are looking at standardized test scores, while others are looking for schools with great ESL programs, which is especially important if they’re from a different country or culture,” Shaffer says. “Some folks are attracted to different school districts for special needs programs.”

If you’re shopping for a home online and seeking advice, the person you’ll connect with through Zillow or Redfin is most likely in a cubicle in California or Seattle — nowhere near Ferndale, Berkley, Clawson or Pleasant Ridge. “If you buy a home online without that local knowledge, you are missing components that are critical to making a wise decision,” Shaffer says.

Shaffer shares a story about a family that wanted their child to attend Burton Elementary, a highly regarded school in the Berkley School District. They came to the JSA team to buy a home in Berkley. “I talked with them to learn more, and the piece of information that they were missing was that for their child to attend Burton, they’d need to be residents of Huntington Woods and not Berkley,” Shaffer recalls. “This was one thing they didn’t know, and had they pursued an online home purchase and not spoken to me, they could have made an expensive and disappointing mistake.”

Shaffer’s knowledge and understanding of local school districts is a valuable asset to home buyers in the Woodward corridor, the precise area of Shaffer’s expertise.

Local real estate experts know local homes

Across the country, different homes are made of different materials, and specific local architects dominate local landscapes. A Michigan bungalow, for example, is as unique and beloved to Michiganders as Faygo. It’s also a totally foreign design to a real estate agent in Iowa, Wyoming or New York.

“More than 20 years of local Michigan real estate experience outweighs the candidate in California who has never even visited metro Detroit and has been selling homes for two years,” Shaffer says, adding that the local knowledge of restaurants, businesses, age of construction, history of the homes and towns, even construction materials used can’t be translated by the remote real estate agent.

“That remote person will look at a ZIP code and lump the homes together, but I know that in Ferndale, the northwest section’s homes command a certain price, while those across Nine Mile Road don’t trade as well. This is specialized local knowledge,” Shaffer says. “Your local real estate professional is the most important part of the transaction because they have all that knowledge.”

Working with one local professional reaps behind-the-scenes benefits

Instead of taking a digital-DIY approach to something as important as home buying, consider the value of the wider local real estate network.

“A big thing to know is that real estate professionals know one another and they know how to collaborate to achieve a goal,” Shaffer says. “They have a fiduciary relationship to the buyer or the seller they are working with but they also work together to make everything come together smoothly.”

When you work with someone outside that local knowledge network, the experience is trickier because of various unknowns. “When you are buying a home, working with a good local representative makes it easier to work with the other side. Our brand is respected, which means we can reach out and get access to property more readily,” Shaffer says.

But where does this relationship really matter? When you’re making the deal, Shaffer says.

“The side that is selling knows the likelihood of the deal getting on the table is very high when they are working with a local, known agent versus someone they have never worked with before or who is working from a cubicle across the country,” he says.

While the remote agent may be licensed in multiple states, they are incentivized to bring in more deals to earn more money, which is not a great customer service philosophy for the consumer in the long run, Shaffer says.

They know what they are doing

Because the JSA team has significant local expertise, they know the cities and the homes in these communities better than anyone. Shaffer says he’s probably been inside every house in Ferndale, having helped sell the majority of them — some even three or four times. That local knowledge is hard to beat, and so important when it comes to something as personal as buying a home.

“If you are buying or selling through Jim Shaffer and Associates, you have 100% confidence that you will get the best service and advice and knowledge,” Shaffer says. “On the other hand, if you are buying in Milford, for example, I’d suggest that you work with someone more locally. Even though I’m licensed everywhere in Michigan, I’d never try to sell you a house in Grand Rapids or Traverse City.”

While not every agent has this hyperlocal approach, Shaffer and his team see the value in knowing and engaging with their community, for all the benefits this provides.

“As a local business, we have a vested interest in our local communities and fostering what is good for the residents, the neighborhoods and the school districts. We give back to our community with our time and financial resources and we invest in our communities because that’s what’s best for a strong housing market, strong small businesses and strong local economy,” Shaffer says.

By using an online real estate portal that doesn’t have this level of vested interest, you are doing yourself — and your community — a disservice, Shaffer says.

“Our local-first way of doing business is the equivalent of shopping Small Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it exists in every industry in America,” Shaffer says. “From a real estate perspective, your local professional is volunteering or donating resources to help grow their business and other small business in the community. That’s what we do. When you have the opportunity to shop local, you absolutely should.”

Learn more about Jim Shaffer and Associates at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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