The internet is the greatest single tool one has at their disposal when looking to purchase a home. Generally speaking, the more time you allocate to researching and fully discovering the type of home that best fits your needs, the more satisfied you will be. Most of the information that you need to know will be readily available on sites like Tulia, Zillow, and Redfin. They have the largest and most comprehensive databases that will give you all the formal information including: current, future, and past price, lot size, school district quality, income levels, etc. These serve as our primary indicators and are the most important statistics we have at our disposal when we are preparing to buy a home. Once you have a type of house in mind including price-point, location(s), and lot-size you can begin using other techniques and tools to better investigate your future potential home.
Assuming that you have done a fair amount of basic research and have narrowed down your potential candidates to a manageable number you should begin using Google Earth to further investigate your potential future home. Say you have 8 potential properties you would like to visit and get a feel for their respective neighborhoods. Instead of driving to all of the aforementioned houses and spending valuable time and energy checking out each individual house; Do a little recon and visit each of these addresses online. For instance, look at the backyard and get a visual idea of how much space you have and what you could do with it. In addition, you can visually find out what type of privacy you can expect from your neighbors, their house size, and perhaps any other properties in the area which might come across as suspect. By this I mean perhaps there is evidence of hoarders, un-kept homes, or other unsightly aspects which would be unappealing. Keep in mind that the images from both, Google Earth and Google Maps are taken in the recent past, sometimes up to one year prior from the present. Thus, one can see if there were some major repairs taking place or other features which might raise some questions.
Consult Online Registries
If you have small children or are thinking about having children in the near future you should consult Family Watch Dog before buying a home in a specific neighborhood. The map has a nice widget that allows you to see not only the sex offenders in the area, but also how far they live from each individual school. A quick Google search for pawn shops, gun stores, alcohol stores and other similar types of business should give you a decent idea as to the overall affluence of the area. Check out Urban Spoon to see which type of restaurants are in the area. If you have dogs check out dog parks in the area and perhaps dog friendly restaurants.
Blogs are a nice way to find out about a neighborhood before you move there. For instance, if you Google a desired neighborhood and plenty of blogs come up it may be a good indication that the neighborhood has a good sense of community and that it is a healthy place to raise a family. Sifting through the many blogs may also bring up the instances of bad neighbors, loud pets, and other unruly facets that could raise alarm.
Junk Removal Companies
Many people will move before they have an official buyer thus the property may be transferred to a realtor/broker/investor who will hire many different companies to tidy-up the property before official showings may commence. Finding out which company they used could take some recon and persistence, but the potential results may be well worth it. Some people are disgusting and you would not believe the kind of junk they leave behind or live in. For starters look up local junk removal companies and give the first few a call. To find local companies click here. For extreme cases (legal issues) the company will be forced to call the police in which case the record will, most likely, become public. In other cases you may want to be made aware of if there were unusual pets, too-many pets, and other instances which could factor into your decision.