Demographics of the area where homes are for sale. Guides to buying foreclosed homes. Mortgage calculators. Lists of apartments for rent.
The Internet offers that information and much more for consumers interested in real estate.
But if you punch "real estate" into the Google search engine, it returns more than 14 million hits. How can you find the Web sites you can rely on?
With help from real estate experts, here's a selection of recommended sites, with an explanation of what's good and what's not so good about them:
Homes for Sale
Buyers can look for all types of homes online, get community statistics and be alerted when new homes go up for sale.
* Homeseekers.com provides a wealth of information on new and resale homes and the neighborhoods they are in. In addition to a description and photo of a home, the site provides the information on the postal code's demographics; crime statistics; housing prices; family facts, such as the number of single people and couples with children; education, such as the number of residents who have college degrees; the local economy; health services, and weather. This information is updated quarterly. Another advantage: You don't have to register to use the site. A slight downside: The only contact information is an e-mail address for the listing agent.
* Realtor.com, which also allows you to search for homes without registering, gives you much less information on the property than homeseekers.com, but provides you with the listing agency and a telephone number.
* Homegain.com: The cool feature here is that you can search for new homes by category: available now, under construction, or ready to build.
* Catalisthomes.com will offer a new service within a week. Would-be buyers who just provide an e-mail address and a description of the home they want to buy will be alerted whenever a property that fits their parameters is added to the Multiple Listing Service. The e-mail alert comes with the listing agent's name and telephone number, even if the Realtor is not a CataList Homes agent. One drawback: CataList may not receive the new home listings until 24 hours after the information pops up on the MLS.
Find out what mortgage rates local banks are offering and calculate the monthly payment for different types of mortgages.
* Bankrate.com: Select the mortgage you want, from a conforming loan to a jumbo loan to an adjustable-rate loan to a government low-income loan. The search produces a list of local banks, what rates they are offering, telephone numbers and links to the companies' Web sites.
If you are a serial refinancer and want to be on top of continually changing mortgage rates, you can choose to be alerted via e-mail when mortgage rates hit a certain level.
Calculators tell you how much house you can afford and your FICO score range -- a credit-rating number that lenders look at to determine what mortgage rate to offer you.
Also, if you are a renter, you can take a quick quiz that tells whether you would qualify for a mortgage and whether it would make sense financially for you to buy a home.
* Decisionaide.com helps borrowers figure out whether they can afford a certain house. It also calculates and compares the monthly payments for five different types of loans.
If you are sitting on the fence about whether to refinance, there is a calculator for you. It tells you how much money you could save and when the monthly savings from refinancing would total the upfront costs of refinancing.
If you put down less than 20 percent and did not take out a second loan, this site will tell you how long you will have to pay mortgage insurance.
Don't know whether you are better off buying a home now with a small or no down payment or saving for a down payment first and buying later? There is a calculator for that, too.
The site also crunches numbers to help you decide whether to pay points, which each cost 1 percent of your mortgage balance, to reduce your mortgage rate.
* Domania.com estimates how much property tax you'd have to pay in a newly purchased home. Just enter an address and pick a recently sold house comparable to yours.
These sites list foreclosed properties and homes at risk of foreclosure. Buyers of foreclosed homes often get a discount 20 percent to 50 percent off market-rate prices.
* Realtytrac.com offers information on two types of homes: properties subject to a notice of default (NOD) and those with a notice of trustee sale (NTS). You can search for these properties by city or postal code.
The NOD, the first step in a foreclosure process, is filed when a loan is in default. These properties aren't yet on the auction block. This Web site provides free information on these properties' square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, and an estimated loan balance. If you want to know whether the current owner will sell, you must pay a monthly subscription fee of $25 for the contact information.
The NTS is filed when borrowers don't pay what they owe within 90 days of the NOD filing. These homes are heading to public auction. The site's free information includes square footage, number of baths and bedrooms, minimum bid amount, and the date of the public sale. For further information on the auction, you must pay the monthly $25.
* Bankhomesdirect.com: If the home doesn't sell at the foreclosure auction, the lender gets the home. It's then categorized as "real estate owned" by lender, or REO -- the last step of the foreclosure process. Lenders' contact information for these REO homes is available on this free site, which requires users to register.
Not only can renters surf for apartment leads, they can also find ratings for some complexes and sign up for new services online when they move into the apartment.
* Apartmentratings.com: You're deciding whether to move into an apartment complex, and you wish you knew someone who could give you the lowdown on the place? This is the site for you.
Here, renters go online to say good and bad things about the communities where they live. They rank the complex's parking, maintenance, noise, safety and office staff, and even landlords pay attention.
"This is a scary one for our industry," said Lynn Klug, marketing director for Sares-Regis, a large landlord in Orange County, Calif.
But Web site users should be wary, because renters' comments aren't verified. "If nothing else, it provides for a few good laughs," said John Burns, a real estate consultant in Irvine, Calif.
* Aaocconnect.com lets new renters and homeowners change their addresses so their mail will be forwarded to the new location and sign up for telephone service, cable service and high-speed Internet access. The idea is to save people time from having to contact each company.
The vendors on the free site guarantee the lowest prices and consumers can compare the prices from as many as three companies. Depending on what area you live in, certain basic services aren't available for online sign-ups. People who use the site to sign up for services can return there to cancel when they leave.
* Rent.com offers $100 back for shoppers who find their apartment on its Web site. This Web site, like many other rental Web sites, lets you know what kinds of apartments are in the area, and then you would have to contact the landlord to see what is available.
The search options are more advanced than some other sites. If you are a pet lover, you can narrow your search to find only places that will take dogs or cats. This is cool because some apartment Web sites aren't as specific -- they only mention policies about pets in general. You can search by type of parking (covered or detached) and location of the washer and dryer (inside the apartment or in a separate room).
* Apartmentguide.com: You can search for apartments that offer disability access, short-term lease, furniture, dishwasher, microwave or balcony.
The searches produce a list of apartments in an easy-to-read chart that shows the number of bedrooms, price and city for each one. If you click on an apartment, you can find out the security deposit required, set up appointments to see the place or e-mail questions to the leasing office.