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Almost everybody starts their home search online…but with so many apps and real estate websites to choose from, where do you start? How can you ensure you don’t miss your dream home being listed for sale? 

Below, we share our insider tips and strategies to help you effectively search for a home online.

Before We Begin…The Basics

Ontario real estate agents list homes for sale on the Multiple Listings Service (MLS). The MLS can only be accessed by licensed REALTORS; however, a data feed exists to share some (but not all) of the listing information with other home search websites. There’s also a client-facing version of our MLS. 

It’s important to know that there are limitations with all online home search websites due to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s (TRREB) rules: 

  • Sold prices can only be seen by ‘clients’, which means you need to create an account and log in to access sold price information. 
  • Personal information (eg the seller’s name) can never be published publicly
  • Brokerages must agree to have their listings advertised on websites other than realtor.ca

Home Search Websites and Portals

There are thousands of home search websites and portals. Here’s the lowdown on the best and most common ones:


This is the granddaddy of home search websites in Canada. Owned by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), it’s the official database of homes listed for sale by REALTORS. If it’s listed on the MLS…it’s almost definitely listed on realtor.ca. 


  • Realtor.ca is Canada-wide, which means it aggregates all listings across all real estate boards
  • Includes residential listings for sale and rent + commercial properties
  • Includes essential property details, photos, neighbourhood demographics, interactive maps and amenities, and you can reach out directly to the agent who is representing the seller 
  • The realtor.ca app is great (especially the ‘search near me’ function) 
  • You can save and share listings and set up listing alerts
  • Lists open house information IF the agent has uploaded it (not everybody does that, so don’t assume the only open houses are those listed on realtor.ca)


  • The desktop version design and navigation is meh, and it feels a little 2010. 
  • Limited information- for example, it doesn’t include property taxes, condo fee inclusions, offer dates, etc. 
  • Doesn’t include sold data and statistics
  • REALTORS are limited by how many words and photos they can include 

Individual REALTOR and Brokerage Websites

Most Toronto agents maintain some kind of website, with many including a home search function. You’ll usually find one of two kinds of listings:

  • The agent or brokerage’s own listings – With unlimited photo and word capacity, this is the #1 place to search for all the details about a home you’re interested in. Great agents will include floor plans, details about renovations, the neighbourhood, ongoing costs, videos and more. 
  • Syndicated listings – Brokerages can opt-in to share their listings with other agent/brokerage/home search sites via an IDX platform. It’s important to know that IDX usually only displays 70-80% of the total listings, so if you’re using a brokerage home search site as your only means of searching for a home online, you’re probably not seeing all the homes for sale. Individual sites vary greatly in design, the type of information displayed, the functionality of listing alerts and how often the information is updated. 

Some brokerage websites (like this one!) include articles, blogs and videos that provide insight, analysis and information about buying or selling a home. 

Pro Tip: If there’s a home you’re interested in, you should ALWAYS check the listing agent’s website for more information. But you’ll be unnecessarily limiting your options if you primarily use an agent or brokerage portal. 

Home Search Portals

There are many websites that extract listing information from the MLS and display it in a custom way, often with additional data. 

Zillow is arguably the best property search website/app in the United States, however it hasn’t become a go-to home search tool in the Canadian market because some of the biggest brokerages refuse to share their listings with them. So, while Zillow has great design and useability, the incomplete listing database reduces the site’s usefulness. 

Condos.ca is a real estate brokerage that operates a custom home search portal with tons of data about Toronto condos. While they force you to create an account to see the information, if you’re a data geek, you’ll love the site. 

House Sigma is a custom brokerage portal popular with potential buyers because they share sold price information. 

Livabl is a property search website that focuses on new construction. If you’re considering buying a pre-construction condo or house, this is the best place to learn about upcoming projects. Pre-construction properties are rarely listed on the MLS or other home search portals. 

Finding Exclusive Listings Online

Agents and brokerages sometimes list homes for sale exclusively. Exclusive listings, sometimes called pocket listings, are properties marketed exclusively by a real estate agent within their network, offering buyers access to a home before it hits the MLS. 

In the past, creeping agent websites for exclusives was a popular way for eager buyers to search for a home to scoop up a property before it was marketed to the masses. While it wasn’t ever very effective, it was popular. 

On January 1, 2024, new rules were introduced restricting the marketing of exclusive listings to 3 days before they appear on the MLS, making this strategy of finding your dream home even less effective. While some agents continue to promote their access to ‘secret listings’, it’s really just a marketing ploy that uses a buyer’s FOMO as a means for the agent to meet new clients.

The Downside of Searching for a Home Online

While searching for a home online is convenient and accessible, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of:

  • It’s not uncommon for sold properties to still appear as ‘available’ online. Individual and brokerage websites often have to be updated manually, resulting in delays. TRREB rules dictate that properties must be updated to the MLS within two business days, so don’t expect to know the status of a home immediately. 
  • Homes that have been ‘conditionally sold’ are technically still available and will appear in search results on websites like realtor.ca until conditions (e.g. financing or home inspection) are removed. 
  • What you see is not always what you get. Be on the lookout for virtual staging that distorts the dimensions of a room. It’s also not uncommon to find outdated photos (or worse – no photos!) and incorrect or missing information.  
  • Who’s the listing agent? While Ontario real estate search portals must include the name and contact information of the listing agent/brokerage, it’s not always obvious who’s who. If you’re looking for more information about a listing or want to ask the listing agent a question, it’s best to check realtor.ca to confirm.

The #1 Way to Search for Home Online

The best way to search for a home online is to work with a trusted REALTOR who can set you up on the client-facing version of the agent MLS. You’ll get real-time listings, complete data, sold prices, custom listing alerts, interactive maps, floor plans and more. If your agent uses the newest MLS technology (it’s called Realm), you can search for a home on an intuitive site that looks good and works on mobile. If your Toronto agent still sends you properties from the ‘Stratus’ system, ask them to transfer you to Realm. It’ll feel like you zoomed from 1995 to 2018 (which, yes, means there are still opportunities to modernize the portal). 

Using Social Media to Search for a Home

Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok can provide motivated homebuyers with valuable insights and inspiration and allow you to connect directly with a listing agent. Social media posts often focus on details not typically included in an MLS listing and provide more information via in-depth walk-through tours, videos, lifestyle photos and neighbourhood guides. One more bonus of social media: you may just discover a neighbourhood or type of home that was screened out by your search parameters.

Not sure who to follow on social media? Start with the BREL team, of course!

BREL on Facebook

BREL on Instagram

BREL on TikTok

Ready to get started searching for a home online? Let’s do this!

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