By toggling back and forth between two new real estate websites, Trulia, at www.trulia.com, and Property Shark, at www.propertyshark.com, it’s easy to be more savvy about putting in a bid for a house.

Just 18 months ago a good bidding strategy involved looking at the asking price, tacking on a few thousand dollars in hopes of beating the competition, and maybe writing a letter telling the seller how much you and your family would cherish the home on which he had obviously lavished such care. Beyond flattery, the key skill involved in winning one of the few homes on the market was speed. The faster the deposit check was written, the better.

Now, with many more homes on the market, and prices at least a little bit soft, there is plenty of time to study houses, and to uncover their sales histories — and those of their neighbors.

These two free websites provide some helpful information for the home buyer who wants to get a great house in a wonderful neighborhood, but also wants to make sure that he doesn’t overpay.

It’s a good idea to use the two websites in tandem as two pieces of the complex puzzle of arriving at just the right offer. The pair are also helpful well before the offer stage. For home buyers interested in moving up — or in downsizing — they provide a good picture of what is going on in nearby towns and neighborhoods. For anyone looking into vacation property in a far away state, or facing relocation, they offer a window on what is going on in the current real estate markets around the country.

Are prices headed up — or down? Is inventory building? How many days are houses staying on the market? What have houses on the same street as a new listing sold for over the past year? Trulia and Property Shark know. Signing up to access each site is a snap. Trulia allows unlimited access to all of its features, while Property Shark gives everyone 15 free property reports a day.

For a look at what information the websites can provide, we cruised around Princeton Borough looking for For Sale signs. There aren’t many, which is in itself an interesting — and important — piece of information, as a small supply often means strong demand.

We found a For Sale sign in front of a small brick duplex at 46 Linden Lane, not far from Nassau Street. Plugging its address into Property Shark, we learned that it last sold for $1 in 2003. That could mean that one family member sold it to another, and isn’t much help in pricing the house. But Property Shark also reveals that this house — at two bedrooms and one bath, is small. It’s a good bet that no other houses on the block are smaller, and yet the asking price for this house, $479,000, is $78,000 more than the $401,000 for which 54 Linden Lane, just a few doors down, sold a little over a year ago, according to Property Shark, which lists the most recent sale prices of five other homes on the street. But this may not be a totally apples-to-apples comp, because, Property Shark tells us, the house at 54 Linden Lane was sold by an estate. We have no way of knowing whether the new owners are relatives, as the last names don’t match, but sometimes houses being sold by estates do go for a little less than market.

Property Shark’s records also indicate that median home prices in Princeton Borough have fallen slightly in the past year. In 2005, 58 homes were sold for a median price of $670,000, while, so far this year, 28 homes have sold for a median price of $650,000.

Property Shark lists the name, address, and generally the phone number, of each home’s owner. It also includes the date on which the owner had his number listed. This can be helpful information. In some cases the owner’s address is different from that of the house, indicating that he may be an investor. The date his phone was listed is probably the date on which he moved in. Combining this information with the prices for which nearby homes sold, going back more than a decade, can provide some indication of what he paid for the house.

Property Shark also links to Google maps, Yahoo maps, Mapquest maps, and TerraServer maps, a feature that is most helpful in checking out out-of-area properties.

Clicking over to Trulia provides more information on that Linden Lane duplex. It reports that the house has been on the market for approximately 64 days, and that someone last looked at its online listing 36 hours ago. It links to the real estate agent listing it, and provides a photo and an extensive description. It gives the addresses of five similar homes currently on the market, and pinpoints them on an attractive, easy to use map.

Click on each address and a full listing for that house comes up. It appears that the website chooses “similar” houses mostly on price and size, not taking into account factors like proximity to a main shopping street or a school — or the prestige attached to a particular section of town. Still, this can be a useful tool, because it is fast and easy to see just what else is available in a particular price range.

Trulia also provides information on five similar houses that recently sold near the Linden Lane duplex. None are absolutely comparable, as they are either slightly larger homes located a block or two off Hamilton Avenue, or are located on or near Jefferson Avenue, and are substantially larger. But it is interesting to see that the closest comparable house, a slightly larger, free-standing, single family home not far from the Princeton Shopping Center, sold for about $30,000 more than the little Linden Lane duplex less than a year ago. Could that indicate that asking prices are falling? Probably not. There are so many variables in a town like Princeton, which has such a varied stock of houses. Computers can provide lots of information, but only a real estate agent, or someone else who has been following the market in a given area obsessively, can know the value buyers are attaching to an extra bedroom, a bigger yard, or a standalone home at any given time.

Charts on Trulia rank houses low, average, or high as compared with both similar houses on the market and with similar houses which sold recently. In both cases, the Linden Lane duplex ranks as average, right in the middle of the pack.

In addition to providing the scoop on individual houses, Trulia provides a snapshot of what is going on all over town. It reports, for example, that there are now 54 houses for sale in Pennington, at an average price of $683,000. It reports that Pennington is a “hot” town, one in which its visitors are showing great interest. It gives median price for all homes on the market with two, three, or four bedrooms, and provides maps indicating the locations of grammar, middle, and high schools.

Trulia also gives the demographic information that so many other real estate sites provide — median family income, school performance, and the like — along with some unusual features. It lists, for example, the percentage of homes built in a given time period, which gives a little flavor of the community. It reports that 32 percent of the homes in Cranbury were built prior to 1939, as compared with 11.79 percent of the homes in all of Middlesex County. In Princeton Borough the pre-1939 figure is 59.48 percent, as compared with 23.13 percent in all of Mercer County.

Another nifty Trulia feature is a list of the homes that have most recently come on the market. Most of these listings are just a few days — or hours — old. Trulia will continually E-mail the details on these just-listed homes in an unlimited number of towns upon request, and at no cost.

While real estate agents can provide all of this information, and lots more too, these websites can be great fun for the armchair real estate shopper, and can be a useful tool for anyone checking out neighborhoods before starting to work with an agent, or thinking of selling and trying to figure out just when to put out the For Sale sign.

Residential Deals

Princeton Township

250 Mercer Road. Bordes to Kelmar. $2,900,000. Closing: September 20, 2006.

37 Pheasant Hill. Buck to Myers. $2,650,000. Closing: October 10, 2006.

151 Highland Terrace. Cendant Mobility Financial to Coles. $2,600,000. Closing: October 5, 2006.

591 Lake Drive. Soffen to Petrov. $2,400,000. Closing: October 11, 2006.

48 Grasmere Way. Pizzuti to Cartus Financial Corp. $2,325,000. Closing: October 2, 2006.

23 Consiton Court. Mitchell to Kuppek. $1,950,000. Closing: October 11, 2006.

36 Brearley Road. Tunnell to Liberty. $1,775,000. Closing: September 22, 2006.

575 Snowden Lane. Babbitt to Golden. $1,570,000. Closing: October 3, 2006.

436 Prospect Avenue. Barsky Homes to Morris. $1,550,000. Closing: September 25, 2006.

15 Arreton Road. Hare to Brown. $1,525,000. Closing: September 20, 2006.

95 Greenhouse Court. Kucera to Leveson. $1,410,000. Closing: September 21, 2006.

1324 Stuart Road. Davies to Yang. $1,400,000. Closing: October 18, 2006.

551 Snowden Lane. Souter to Baxter. $1,350,000. Closing: September 19, 2006.

181 Snowden Lane. Kaytmaz to Kelly. $1,350,000. Closing: September 20, 2006.

9 Windermere Way. Mansfield to Dennis. $1,306,000. Closing: September 22, 2006.

40 Constitution Hill. Martindell to Wilson. $1,200,000. Closing: September 22, 2006.

651 Mt. Lucas Road. Chow to Hammoudi. $975,000. Closing: October 3, 2006.

11 Frederick Court. M2K2 to Schadrack. $950,000. Closing: June 5, 2006.

43 Stonewall Circle. Krishnamurthy to NU Realty LLC.. $925,000. Closing: September 26, 2006.

901 Mt. Lucas Road. Johnson to Chai. $888,888. Closing: September 8, 2006.

6 Van Marter Court. Anastasiou to Ogata. $855,000. Closing: October 10, 2006.

766 Kingston Road. Plante to Ams. $775,000. Closing: October 4, 2006.

544 Lake Drive. Rozas to Bell. $710,000. Closing: September 23, 2005.

19 Ridgeview Road. Outcalt to Busch. $700,000. Closing: October 19, 2006.

29 Cuyler Road. Doran to Lofberg. $697,500. Closing: September 29, 2005.

84 Wheatsheaf. Schwartzman to Rouse/Schlitz. $693,000. Closing: July 12, 2006.

165 Grover Avenue. Bartolome to Leclercq. $688,000. Closing: October 5, 2006.

11 Rollingmead. Fineman to Richards. $658,000. Closing: September 1, 2005.

55 Trewbridge Court. Weinberger to Shevelev. $637,500. Closing: September 26, 2005.

26 Trewbridge Court. Sims to Croston. $630,000. Closing: October 11, 2006.

13 Trewbridge Court. Richmond to Speaker. $628,000. Closing: October 12, 2006.

218 Bullock Drive. Wright to Shaw. $620,000. Closing: September 2, 2005.

188 North Harrison Street. Macauley to Weiner. $615,000. Closing: September 5, 2006.

35 Woodland Drive. Blooston to Rendall. $605,000. Closing: September 7, 2006.

228 Bullock Drive. Shunglu to DeClue. $600,000. Closing: October 27, 2006.

177 Harrison Street South. Chen to P.U. Trustees. $589,000. Closing: September 7, 2005.

179 South Harrison Street. Chen to P.U. Trustees. $585,000. Closing: September 7, 2005.

47 Wilkinson Way. Light to Yang. $585,000. Closing: September 6, 2006.

58 Maidenhead Road. Parsha to Scott. $583,826. Closing: June 5, 2006.

102 Maclean Circle. Lo to P.U. Trustees. $578,000. Closing: September 30, 2005.

133 Snowden Lane. Stein to Leisten. $575,000. Closing: October 10, 2006.

160 Neil Court. Watling to Ong. $555,000. Closing: September 1, 2005.

62 Erdman Avenue. Tayyabkhan to McGregor. $550,250. Closing: September 13, 2006.

497 Herrontown Road. Roberton to Weeks. $550,000. Closing: June 29, 2006.

31 Randall Road. Tevco Inc. to Wimmer. $550,000. Closing: August 4, 2006.

638 Kingston Road. Gitterman to Pizarro. $535,000. Closing: October 16, 2006.

2 Laurel Road. Gilman to Curran. $521,000. Closing: September 29, 2005.

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