trulia.com and zillow.com : For-sale listing, price estimates, and sales histories, plus community statistics, including population, median prices, and recent activity. (Note: Both can be incredibly useful or frustratingly out of date, depending on location.)
escapehomes.com : Profiles of popular second-home communities, with links to multiple brokers.
realtor.org : Site of the National Association of Realtors; offers a wide range of information and tools.
bankrate.com : Local and national mortgage rates, plus tons of financing advice and information.
mortgagecalculator.org : Reality check, please.
walkscore.com : Ranks individual addresses and communities based on their walkability.
maps.google.com : The "street view" option lets you virtually drive around, though it can be limited in rural areas.
A coach for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association in the 1990s, David Baldinger Jr. has also been a realtor in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, since 1993. As a top performer at Steamboat Village Brokers, he sells property in a prime second-home market that's enjoying an $18 million urban-renewal project despite the economic downturn. Here, his prescription for buyers anywhere.
1. Pick Your Spot
Multiple visits is the single most important thing. Get the whole family there in different seasons and weather. Ask yourself, Is it easy to get here? Do I know anyone who owns here? Will I really like it?
2. Pick Your Agent
You want a broker with at least three to five years' local experience who both lists and sells properties, plus multiple references you can talk to. And get someone in your own age group who understands your needs.
3. Know Your Limit
Have a preliminary conversation with a lender. The most disappointing thing is shopping way above your price range without knowing it.
4. Develop Good Taste
Establishing your own criteria is harder than you think. Everyone does research online, but you can't appreciate distances or views or features or neighborhoods until you touch them. In a mountain town, everyone thinks they want ski-in/ski-out, but they end up saying, "You mean if I walk two blocks, I can get a garage?"
5. Go All In
Buy the best house you can afford within your budget. Those are the ones that hold value. Don't buy the "really good deal"; buy the home you like. Chances are the next buyer will like it, too.