If you're a real estate agent, this might all be old news for you, but for home sellers and buyers, there are several ways to get ahead of your competition by seeing trends before they're common knowledge.
Here are some inside secrets to finding local housing trends without waiting for it to hit the newspaper:
MLS auto e-mail
Your real estate agent can set you up on an automatic e-mail of listings matching certain criteria. Work with your agent to narrow the type of property you're interested in and have them set up an auto e-mail for whenever that type of property goes up for sale (or sells), you'll be notified about it. This way, you'll know exactly what's going on with properties you're looking for. The MLS contains the most accurate information of listings.
Go to the building department
The local building department is a great place to look for trends, such as increased spending on construction. You can also check the HUD office, the Department of Labor, and other locations for information on where money is being spent (and equally important, where it's not). Using this information you can look for neighborhoods low on inventory, that can expect to see more inventory, and for neighborhoods that are untapped gems.
Look for business closures and openings
While the loss of 500 jobs in Los Angeles won't change much, it can have a devastating effect on many suburbs and rural communities. If you're looking for a home at a lower price, you might help someone whose job just left and left them unemployed. It might seem morbid, but offering someone a reasonable price is better than foreclosure. Conversely, a large business opening will draw people to the area. That can drive prices up. If you're thinking of selling your home, wait for an announced business to hire and you'll get a better price.
Look online for trends and data
There are lots of people online talking about local trends. Look for local real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and journalists discussing your area and read what they're saying. They're in the business already. If they're your professional peer, it can be a great way to know what other offices are doing. If you're thinking of selling or buying, this can be a resource for what to expect.
In short, information is power. Keep track of everything in your area so you can see what's happening and what's likely to happen. If you're a real estate professional, you can use that information in your work. If you're a buyer or a seller, you'll be able to decide what to pay and what to ask for.