Go to IREM.org search for ARM certified property managers. Call 5 ask them what they see expenses running per category per unit. What do they see them selling for per unit, what is the market occupancy rate. What are the market rents? Ask them if they know anything coming up for sale. Great way to pick up some good info and possibly a deal.
You can also search NARPM.org for the RMP (Residential Management Professional) and MPM (Master Property Manager) certified.
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It is always nice to see another Ct., resident in the forums.
Click on the "learn tab" at the top of the page, and you could be spending many hours on the Information that is available.
I use a few different sites for my neighborhood. I downloaded the "realtor" app and just click the near me function and you can search for active and sold listings around you (really cool when you're traveling and just want to know how much homes are going for in the area). I am a real estate agent and use the MLS, but I have to say in my neighborhood Zillow is within about a 3% error margin. I would list my house for $170k and Zillow has it estimated at $171,800. The reason Zillow can be way way off is if their info is incorrect, such as 0 bed/2 bath or 900sqft when its really 1200sqft. Zillow doesn't take into account pools, remodels, etc (unless you own the property and go in and make the updates which most don't know how to do). Another reason Zillow can be off is if a Hedge fund or private investor buys several properties for $2m let's say it will show every house as $2m. That being said you can look at Zillow and look at recently sold comps or Realtor does the same. You should be able to get some idea of the market in your neighborhood from that or like you said ask a realtor. The nice thing about Zillows mistakes is that if you do find a 0 bed house usually the zestimate is low…so you might want to scoop those up. Depending on what you are looking to do with the house, I would also drive the neighborhood.
If you are looking to rent the houses out or sell on a rent to own I would recommend rentometer, Zillow, and realtor as they are usually within reason.
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There are several ways to learn your market. You can start by making a list of the types of property you want to learn about. For example SFH, townhomes, apartments, multifamily units of 4 units or less, commercial etc. Next pick one and go schedule walk throughs on as many as you can. Go to open houses and look up the address. Basilly build a profile of maybe a zip code or propetry type. Go learn the finishes, the neighborhoods and the price and square footage. These are one way to learn about the inventory as well as the type of housing available in the different neighborhoods.
Repeat this for other properties and or property types and build your own database. Look for things like hospitals, schools, or properties near public transportation lines. Go to your city planning web site to find out where future infrastructure or development will take place.
I'm sure there are more way and there have been some great suggestions already. Learning your market may help you decide on what type of REI you want to do. Or you could specify first. By profiling one type of RE at a time you may find that you will learn what is the best fit for your local market.
I hope that helps.
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