We’ve all seen the way homebuying has changed over the years. Today’s savvy buyers are doing more research ahead of time than ever before, and they walk into a real estate or sales office educated about their choices.

Social media – especially Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, Twitter and YouTube – has become increasingly important in the homebuying process.

Whether you’re looking for a home across town or across the country, Facebook connections can usually lead you to someone in the area where you’re thinking of moving. You’ll soon be connected to more people in that area and can learn about a place from those who live there. Community-related pages can also provide information on a specific area.

Recent studies have shown that even the decision to buy a house is influenced by social media. Because home values are often a point of discussion on social media, those connected to people whose property has increased in value are more likely to buy a home than those with online friends who own homes with fluctuating values.

If you’re ready to take the homebuying plunge, it’s easier than ever to do research to find the right builder. Every month, 700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook alone – 700 BILLION! With the ever-increasing presence of social media, you can be sure that smart builders have taken notice, and they want to contribute to the conversations taking place.

Here are a few hints to help you engage with builders of interest before a site visit, so you can gain knowledge of their culture, their products and experience before you ever get in your car:

– Be sure to follow your favorite builders to get their latest posts and information.
– Feel free to engage with a builder on a post or page.
– Check out the YouTube videos available from a builder. It often gives you a virtual visit and offers information on the nearby neighborhood shops, restaurants, schools and more. To get a perspective on a home’s location, check out Google maps or Google Earth.
– Read the content a builder will blog or post. It gives insight into what kind of company it is, and areas of passion and expertise.
– Check out the location-specific posts – ones about the communities you are considering. These will help you stay informed on your favorite neighborhoods. If there’s an opening coming up or a sales release, it’s a pretty good bet that it will be posted there first.

The only drawback is that everyone interested in similar homes also has access to the same information. With homes in short supply, it’s imperative to make quick decisions when a home becomes available. Getting preapproved credit is essential when it comes to making an offer.

The good news is that with so much information at everyone’s fingertips, consumers are much more informed and can search a wide variety of home options in a short period of time.

Being engaged and active on the social media sites you already use will give you knowledge about builders and what’s happening at your targeted communities. Be informed, use the wealth of information available and feel confident about your homebuying decisions.

By Pat Setter, San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS)