Let's face it: At some point, looking at pictures of a house online just isn't going to cut it. To make your final decision, you have to make the trip and check out every room for yourself. But compiling your own list of potential homes means you don't have to communicate with a real estate agent until you want to. If you pick out homes that happen to be holding open houses, you may not even need an agent at all to check them out. And once you contact an agent or use a Web site like Redfin that will help you get in touch with one, coming prepared with a list of prospective houses will make the process easier.
As helpful as the pictures of each house posted online will no doubt be, taking your own photographs is a smart idea, and one you can't do from home. If you visit a dozen houses, they may end up blurring together. Take a few pictures at each one to remember which house has the luxurious kitchen, which has a wonderful backyard and which master bedroom faces straight into the glaring sunrise. Those factors bring us to our last element of online home shopping: the stuff that you simply can't do online.