The 5 Best Real Estate Websites in California of 2023

With a few quick clicks, California residents can find a new home or put their current one up for sale without even leaving the couch. What are the best real estate websites California has to offer, though?

By Meghan Wentland | Published Nov 27, 2023 4:35 PM

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A close up of a tablet screen where a person is browsing a listing for a home.

Photo: istockphoto.com

The search for a new house no longer begins and ends with a real estate agent. In California, where the real estate market is highly competitive, there are many free real estate websites and their coordinated apps that make it much easier to search large swaths of the state using different search criteria. Reliable sites also help buyers and renters find what they’re looking for faster and give them a better chance of getting in an offer early, especially in competitive real estate markets. Finding a house for sale in California, where the stock is generally low in a hot market, can be difficult without the ability to quickly find new listings, schedule showings, and make an offer.

There are many top real estate websites that residents can choose from whether they’re looking to buy, rent, or sell a house in California, and each has its own features and capabilities to consider. When weighing their options with the best real estate websites, California residents will want to consider the breadth of listings, the ease and cost of using the sites, and the different purposes for which they might be looking for a home—among other factors—and then choose the best site to suit their needs.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Zillow
  2. RUNNER-UP: Redfin
  3. BEST FOR RENTING: Apartments.com
  4. BEST FOR FORECLOSURES: Auction.com
  5. ALSO CONSIDER: Houzeo
A hand holds up a small model house with a blue roof in front of a computer.

Photo: istockphoto.com

What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Real Estate Websites in California

When shoppers are searching for the best real estate websites, there are certain elements that are important to identify to make sure the site will continue to meet the customer’s needs from the first home search all the way through moving day. Some of these elements are particularly critical for house hunters in California. Real estate websites may have been designed with slightly different purposes, audiences, or goals in mind, so the key to house hunting success is choosing a site that makes the most sense for each individual.

Site Type

What does the site actually do? Does it simply provide listings, or can users contact and hire a real estate broker directly through the website? Are the listings for properties that are for sale, or those for rental? For home sales, are the listings provided through a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) or are they for sale by owner (FSBO)? Understanding what the purpose of the site is will help users determine if it’s the right fit for them. For home buyers and renters, this means they can ensure that they are browsing the most appropriate listings. For instance, those who are interested in buying a foreclosure may want to focus their search using one of the best foreclosure sites. Meanwhile, sellers and landlords will want to consider the intent of the site so they can be sure their listings are reaching the right buyers or renters.

Search Parameters

The search parameters offered by a real estate website let shoppers and renters narrow the focus of their real estate searches so only homes or apartments that really meet their needs appear. Sellers can also tag their listings with key features so they are seen by the right buyers or prospective tenants. Parameters can cover a lot of ground, from the most basic information about the property to more detailed features, characteristics, and amenities. When conducting a real estate search by map, address, or ZIP code, users may be able to fine-tune their results with a variety of parameters, including:

  • Price
  • Neighborhood
  • Square footage
  • Lot size
  • Number of rooms and bathrooms
  • Nearby amenities
  • Neighborhood demographics
  • School district
  • Waterfront, city skyline, or mountain views

Buyers and renters can adjust these parameters to narrow down their searches and rule out properties that won’t work for them.

Site Tools

Buying or selling a home is a long and complicated process, especially for first-timers. Those involved in the process will need to deal with real estate agents, banks, inspectors, insurance companies, and sometimes attorneys—and every step along the way needs to follow a precise timeline. Having a robust suite of tools to assist in this process gives a real estate website a leg up on the competition, as users who can find everything they need in one place will appreciate the opportunity to streamline the process of buying or selling a home.

Buyers and renters may be interested in site tools to determine what they can afford to pay and what a home is actually worth. For instance, the best home value estimator tools can help buyers make more prudent financial decisions by accurately calculating the market value of a piece of property. Websites may also include links to lenders or insurance companies so buyers can get preapproved for a mortgage or sign up for a homeowners or renters insurance policy. For sellers, property management platforms, and tools that manage showings and purchase offers, can be great assets for those who are working on investment properties or handling their own sale. The convenience of centralizing many of the tools and services needed for the sale or rental process makes a real estate website more efficient for those embroiled in the buying, renting, and selling process.

Finding an Agent

Buyers, sellers, and renters may not know where to begin finding a real estate agent who understands the local market and can help them either find the right property for their needs or list their property and effectively promote it in a crowded real estate market. Some real estate websites can assist users by matching them with experienced real estate agents in their area. These professionals often play a key role in the home-buying or selling process, finding listings that meet the client’s needs, putting together an effective offer (or reviewing offers from prospective buyers), coordinating inspections and walk-throughs, working with the other side’s agent to iron out transaction details, and providing expert advice throughout.

Having this feature included in a real estate website can be very convenient for users since they will be able to connect with real estate or listing agents as they peruse listings or put together their own listing to post on the site. Websites to buy homes may even include reviews and ratings for each agent, helping buyers and sellers determine which agents will be easy to work with and are best suited for the job. For buyers, sellers, and renters who need a real estate agent, website tools can connect them with the right professional.

Ease of Use

It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a site has if users can’t figure out how to access the tools and services offered. Simple, easy-to-use search functions, save functions, and communication tools can make a real estate website a home buyer or seller’s best friend. If, however, the site is clunky, with tools that are hard to find, sections that are poorly labeled, and contact information hidden or missing, then it will add more frustration to the process than value. As such, finding a website that’s easy to use can be a major consideration for anyone buying, selling, or renting a home.

Listing Fees

While real estate websites typically allow buyers and renters to browse listings and schedule showings for free, they may charge sellers a fee to list their properties. Listing fees range widely depending on the site and the market. In some cases, websites may set these fees based on a percentage of the sale price or they may set a flat fee for every listing. They may also have different listing fees for home sales and rentals. As listing fees are out-of-pocket costs for sellers and landlords, comparing options can be an important step in finding a real estate website to list their properties.

Our Top Picks

We studied the various real estate websites that serve California and identified the best choices in several categories. The right option for a home buyer, seller, or renter will depend on the specific features and capabilities they’re looking for in a website.

Best Overall

The word 'Zillow' appears in blue with its logo on a white background.
Photo: zillow.com

Why It Made the Cut: Zillow’s high traffic, wide variety of listings, support for home sales and rentals, helpful home comparison tool, and connections to agents, inspectors, and builders make it a great overall choice.

As a real estate listing website that caters to buyers, sellers, and renters, Zillow is a one-stop shop for nearly anyone engaged in buying or selling a home. As noted in our Zillow review, the site has millions of property listings for users to view. This means that regardless of geographic location, buyers and renters are more likely to find a good range of housing options listed in their target area, including the best real estate listings for their needs. The site also draws in a great deal of traffic, with many buyers and renters browsing Zillow at any given time. As such, those listing properties for sale or rent know that there will be many eyes on their listings.

While many real estate websites focus either on sales or rentals, Zillow includes both types of listings. Users can search for homes for sale or rent immediately alongside an option to list homes for sale or rent. While Zillow is a truly comprehensive buying, selling, and renting website, it can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for listings to be updated on the site when changes are made.

Once a buyer or renter has identified a few properties they’d like to consider, they can take advantage of Zillow’s useful comparison tool to weigh their options. Browsers can choose up to five properties they’d like to compare, and Zillow will provide a side-by-side comparison of all the key points noted in the listing to make it easier to break down the similarities and differences between the properties.

Other great tools include Zestimate, Zillow’s estimate of a home’s market value, and a search function to match buyers or sellers with an agent and other professionals involved in the home-selling process, which is part of what makes Zillow such a comprehensive service. Even those who already have a real estate agent may need assistance finding a knowledgeable home inspector or reliable builder in their area. Therefore, the reviews and ratings of home inspectors and other professionals on Zillow’s website is a great added value.

 

Specs

  • Site type: Real estate listings website
  • Buying, selling, or renting: Buying, selling, renting
  • Search parameters: Price, beds, baths, square footage, home type, amenities, view
  • Site tools: Calculators, Zestimate, property management, advertising
  • Listing fees: $0 for home sales; $29.99 for rental listings

Pros

  • Relatively high site traffic and number of property listings
  • Users can search for and post both sales and rental listings
  • Helpful home comparison tool for buyers and renters
  • Customers can search for agents, inspectors, builders, and other professionals

Cons

  • Listing updates may not take effect for up to 48 hours

Runner-Up

The word 'Redfin' is written in red against a white background.
Photo: redfin.com

Why It Made the Cut: Redfin’s breadth of search filters, excellent tools to connect buyers and sellers with real estate agents, and turnaround time on listing updates make it a terrific option.

Redfin appeals directly to those looking to buy, sell, or rent immediately, reassuring users that the company has the entire process of home sale and rental covered in one easy-to-use spot. The site includes a wide variety of search parameters to help buyers and renters narrow down their search and zero in on properties that best meet their needs. In addition to standard search parameters such as price, number of bedrooms, and property type, Redfin allows users to filter listings by the quality of local schools, walkability scores, and the availability of open houses or virtual tours. Searchers can look for homes that have very specific features, such as a fireplace, a certain type of pool, an elevator, or primary bedrooms on the first floor, among other home features. All of these options mean that those looking to buy or rent can whittle down the search to find precisely the home of their dreams.

Sellers will want to note that Redfin does charge a listing fee, and although fees can be as low as 1 percent of the sale price, that only applies to sellers who also buy a home through Redfin. Listing fees for rentals will vary, so landlords will need to contact Redfin regarding their specific property. Beyond that, however, Redfin offers a great platform for buyers, sellers, and renters with many worthwhile features to consider. For instance, Redfin employs its own stable of agents. This offers users the opportunity to search for agents in a particular town and then select either Redfin-affiliated or independent agents from their listings, which include headshots, contact information, and user reviews of the agents. In addition, the listings on Redfin are frequently updated—the site claims that 70 percent of MLS listings are updated every 5 minutes, which is a quick turnaround time. This can give users confidence that listings are up to date and accurate.

 

Specs

  • Site type: Discount brokerage
  • Buying, selling, or renting: Buying, selling, renting
  • Search parameters: Price, beds, baths, square footage, home type, status, stories, home features, listing type, schools, walk score, open house and tour
  • Site tools: Affordability calculator, home value estimator, mortgage preapproval, agent finder
  • Listing fees: 1 to 1.5 percent of sale price; pricing varies for rentals

Pros

  • Users can search for and post both sales and rental listings
  • Buyers can connect to vetted, qualified agents
  • Comprehensive selection of search filters
  • 70 percent of listings are updated every 5 minutes

Cons

  • Low 1 percent listing fee only available if sellers also buy a home through Redfin

Best for Renting

'Apartments.com' is written out in black with its green logo in front of it, and both appear on a white background.
Photo: apartments.com

Why It Made the Cut: Apartments.com caters specifically to renters so they can limit their search specifically to rental properties.

Every aspect of the Apartments.com website has been designed with renters in mind. This means that renters can use the site’s available tools for more relevant and detailed searches to help them find the rental they need. Search parameters include the usual size and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but it also include rental-specific delineations, such as move-in date sorting. Apartments.com includes a “Lifestyles” section that allows users to choose over-55 communities, student housing, senior housing, and short-term rentals, among others. Searchers can also hunt for properties with particular amenities, such as walk-in closets, balconies, or pet acceptance.

While the company does require users to pay an application fee of $29 plus tax, this fee includes the cost to screen applicants and is certainly less than one might pay a real estate agent to locate the perfect rental. Furthermore, the renter can use the screening report for up to 10 other applications within 30 days, so there’s a benefit to identifying several apartments of interest and submitting applications close together. Apartments.com doesn’t charge anything to list rentals, but property owners who choose to upgrade to a premium listing will need to pay an extra fee. This fee will vary from one rental market to another, but that cost may be worth it to take advantage of premium listing features such as larger ads, greater visibility across more syndication channels, and the ability to upload several videos.

There’s also a rent affordability calculator to help users determine how much they can afford to pay for a rental. This number can otherwise be tricky for renters to determine on their own because the calculations differ based on security deposits, included or excluded utilities, and whether furnishings are included.

Apartments.com also has an extensive library of area guides for potential renters who aren’t already familiar with the area. Guides include information about the town and neighborhood, public transportation, schools, restaurants, and shopping, along with an explanation of the rental trends in the neighborhood, which can be especially helpful for people concerned about future rent hikes. With so much information available, Apartments.com area guides can help renters choose a neighborhood that suits their lifestyle and safety requirements.

 

Specs

  • Site type: Apartment listing site
  • Buying, selling, or renting: Renting
  • Search parameters: Price, beds, type, move-in date, lifestyle, amenities, affordability
  • Site tools: Rental calculator, rental management tools
  • Listing fees: $0; premium pricing varies by market

Pros

  • Rental-focused site
  • Area guides provide in-depth information about listing location
  • Robust selection of search filters and amenities tags
  • Easy-to-use rent affordability calculator tool

Cons

  • Application fee required for renters

Best for Foreclosures

'Auction.com' and its blue and green logo appear on a white background.
Photo: auction.com

Why It Made the Cut: Auction.com specializes in foreclosures and vacant properties, providing support for both online and in-person listings as well as convenient remote-bidding options.

Auctions.com is a listing site for homes that are vacant or in foreclosure and are being auctioned off. Home buyers interested in purchasing property in California will find a wide range of listings for foreclosures and vacant properties up for auction in the state. The site makes this process much less intimidating for newcomers, thanks to a variety of helpful tools tailored to the needs of buyers looking to purchase a home through an auction. For instance, the site offers the option to sort between in-person auctions (where the buyer can scout the property online but must go to the physical location to place bids), and online auctions (where everything is handled through the site). And for those who would prefer to skip the auction process altogether, the site provides a filter to screen out auctions and return only direct-buy properties for bank-owned properties.

The site notes that most of the properties listed are sold as is and many purchases can only be made in cash, which may exclude buyers who require financing. In addition, there’s a very limited amount of time—6 hours—to fill out the contract paperwork after the auction is finished, but Auction.com provides a series of guides to help bidders through the process. Auctions.com also helpfully provides a checklist of resources to buyers to note the research that should be done prior to attending an auction, including checking the title and liens, reviewing the purchase agreement carefully to look for potential pitfalls, and preparing the funds to pay should they win the auction.

California users can also take advantage of Auction.com’s Remote Bid option. Once they’ve downloaded the mobile app to get access to Remote Bid, users can place a bid the day before the property opens for auction, choosing their highest bid and letting the site do the bidding on their behalf. This means that the buyer doesn’t actually have to attend the auction in person, which may be very convenient. For those who are interested in buying several investment properties, Remote Bid can allow them to be in several places at once, bidding on desirable properties while the buyer monitors the action from their smartphone.

 

Specs

  • Site type: Real estate listings website
  • Buying, selling, or renting: Buying
  • Search parameters: Asset type, buying type, condition
  • Site tools: N/A
  • Listing fees: N/A

Pros

  • Comprehensive listings of local foreclosures and vacant properties
  • Choice of online and in-person auctions
  • Remote Bid option available through mobile app

Cons

  • Most properties need to be purchased up front with cash
  • Short 6-hour time frame to fill out contract information

Also Consider

The word 'Houzeo' appears in blue on a white background.
Photo: houzeo.com

Why It Made the Cut: Houzeo specializes in FSBO listings, and the various tools and resources make it a great option for individuals looking to buy or sell a home without an agent.

Houzeo is noteworthy among the best real estate websites in California because it focuses specifically on FSBO listings. Acting as one’s own real estate can be challenging, but sellers may prefer to sell their home without an agent to cut down on commission costs and fees, while home buyers may see FSBO listings as an opportunity to save money and negotiate more flexible transaction terms on a purchase. Although some sites may include FSBO listings, every inch of the Houzeo site has been designed with these transactions in mind, making it easier for buyers and sellers to navigate this type of sale.

Although there is no option to post a listing for free, Houzeo’s flat-fee structure simplifies listing costs for sellers and also includes syndication to other sites such as Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin. Sellers may want to note that any changes they make to their listing may not be reflected for up to 48 hours, so it’s important to check back to see that the site implements their updates.

Houzeo includes a number of other features and resources to facilitate FSBO transactions, including platforms for sellers to manage showings and purchase offers directly through the site or the company’s dedicated mobile app. Users can also set up a virtual visit with a licensed broker to go through the contract process in more detail. These resources can be invaluable to sellers trying to navigate real estate transactions without a real estate agent, making Houzeo an excellent option for FSBO sellers and buyers who are open to an agent-free process.

 

Specs

  • Site type: Flat-fee MLS listing site
  • Buying, selling, or renting: Buying, selling
  • Search parameters: Price, beds, baths, home type, square footage, stories
  • Site tools: Cost calculator, showing management, offers management
  • Listing fees: Starting at $349

Pros

  • Specialty in FSBO listings
  • Wide range of FSBO tools and resources

Cons

  • No free listing option
  • Listing updates may not take effect for up to 48 hours

Our Verdict

Zillow is our pick for Best Overall because of the sheer number of listings and the number of people shopping for them. The combination of inventory and resources will likely connect countless buyers, sellers, and renters with homes they love. The Runner-Up award goes to Redfin due to its outstanding search parameters, quick refresh rate, and support for both home sales and rentals.

How We Chose the Best Real Estate Websites in California

When determining the best real estate websites in California, we first looked at the type of listings available and who they might appeal to: buyers, sellers, or renters. Sites that specialize in certain types of transactions such as auctions or FSBO purchases were also considered during the review process. An important overarching factor we considered was the user experience provided by each site—Redfin vs. Zillow, for instance—including search parameters, calculators, tools, and educational resources.

Since many home buyers and renters prefer to search for listings with their smartphone, we also considered the functionality of mobile apps with each site. Where applicable, we weighed different listing-fee options as they pertain to both home sales and rental properties. Other observations came into play as we really dug into the sites themselves to evaluate their quality and audience, including update times when a listing change needs to be made and options to connect with real estate agents, inspectors, and other professionals involved in the home-buying process.

Before You Use One of the Best Real Estate Websites in California

Before buying, renting, or selling a home, even on a website with outstanding tools, there are some steps users need to take to make the most of the tools available. Sellers may want to consider finding an agent to advise the process. Hiring an agent early on allows sellers to reap the benefits of their expert advice and potentially field better purchase offers. The agent can also advise on some of the other steps to take prior to listing, such as sprucing up the exterior of the home so it shows in its best light, along with decluttering, depersonalizing, and neutralizing the decor indoors. Cleaning, basic repairs, and minor staging can also help get the house ready for showing.

Buyers have a different set of tasks prior to signing up and browsing listings. They’ll also need to get their house in order, so to speak—in this case, their financial house. It’s critical to check credit scores well in advance of trying to make a purchase so there’s time to correct any errors, and having more money to put toward a down payment may help a buyer qualify for lower interest rates and potentially no mortgage insurance. These steps show sellers that a buyer is serious about making an offer. Creating a realistic budget, preferably with the guidance of a real estate agent, can prevent disappointment during the shopping process, and getting preapproved for a mortgage will enable buyers to move quickly and confidently when making an offer. For both buyers and sellers, taking the time to work through these tasks ahead of time will contribute to a smoother process.

Renters, meanwhile, will want to consider what they can afford to spend on rent and still comfortably cover other living expenses while putting money into their savings account each month. Also, not all landlords will post rental listings online, and in some cases, prospective tenants can find great deals on apartments and other rental properties simply by walking around their neighborhood and keeping an eye out for “for rent” signs.

Cost of Using One of the Best Real Estate Websites in California

Buyers typically won’t pay anything to use a real estate website other than the cost of the home itself. Although the buyer’s real estate agent will likely earn a commission on the purchase, the seller usually covers that cost, along with their own listing agent’s commission. Sellers and landlords may need to pay a listing fee, but this varies quite a bit depending on the website. For instance, some real estate sites may allow sellers to list their property for free while charging landlords for rental listings. Listing fees can also be set at a flat rate or as a percentage of the sale price, so it’s important for sellers to weigh these costs when deciding on which real estate website to use.

In many cases, renters won’t be required to pay any fees to search for rental listings on a real estate website. However, some sites will charge renters a fee for applying for an apartment or other rental property directly through their online platform.

The Advantages of Using One of the Best Real Estate Websites in California

There are pros and cons to all methods of home buying and selling, but the best real estate websites in California can facilitate this process and help connect buyers and sellers or renters and landlords. In addition, the top websites may offer several other features and benefits to assist users so they can easily find a new home, sell their house or condo, or rent out their property.

  • High site traffic means that listings are exposed to the widest audience possible, so sellers and landlords can reach interested buyers and renters more easily.
  • Detailed search parameters allow buyers and renters to comb through listings more effectively and find the right property for them.
  • Helpful resources such as home comparison tools, local area guides, and rental calculators make it easier for buyers and renters to navigate the real estate market.

FAQs

Buying, renting, or selling a home in California can be very complicated at times, and there are many concerns or challenges that may arise over the course of the process. Some of the most common questions people have about California real estate are addressed below to help them feel more confident about finding or selling a home in this market.

Q. Is it a good idea to buy property in California?

Despite having some of the highest home prices in the country, California’s real estate market continues to be very competitive. Due to the fantastic weather, scenic coastline, and small inventory of homes, demand for properties for sale in California will likely continue for the foreseeable future. If buyers can find a home they can afford, chances are that the value will continue to rise. It’s worth noting that obtaining property insurance in California may be more challenging than in other states as several insurance carriers have stopped accepting applications for new homeowners insurance policies due to increasing costs. In the end, though, it’s important to buy a house in a place that you love, so if buying a home in California is your preference and you have access to the funds to do it, then it’s not a bad idea.

Q. Where is the most expensive place to live in California?

According to U.S. News & World Report, San Diego is the most expensive spot in California right now, followed very closely by Los Angeles. Homes for sale in Southern California can be prohibitively expensive, but they may be worth the price for those dreaming of warm weather and sandy beaches. Northern California real estate markets are expensive as well, but they may be among the best places to buy a house in California for those looking for a temperate climate and ample outdoor activities.

Q. Can a foreigner buy property in California?

California state statutes don’t restrict ownership of property in the state to U.S. citizens, so there is no reason that a non-citizen can’t purchase property there. It’s true that some additional steps may need to be taken to purchase property, such as acquiring a Social Security number and tax ID number for identification. Additionally, non-citizens must note that the taxes on the property will be subject to the same laws that are in place for citizens.