If you’re like my mom, you probably think that online video is the exclusive province of skateboard show-offs, oversexed exhibitionists and kitty-cat owners with too much time on their hands. And with good reason — many ordinary folk like you and me think there’s little reason to visit YouTube, unless you need to study up on how to do the Harlem Shake or shake off a bad mood watching that little boy David DeVore Jr. and his post-dental delusions.

However, online video can be much, much more useful than you think, even when it comes to the serious business of buying, selling, owning or operating a home.

For do-it-yourself home repairs and small projects like painting, installing moldings and even little things like lighting your water heater’s pilot light, YouTube is almost unparalleled as a free source of how-to video instruction from everyone from national home improvement experts to local contractors and even more local individual home fixers who just have a yen for their 15 minutes of online fame and decided to put that yen to constructive use.

In addition to helping you be the best homeowner you can be, there are a few powerful ways online video can power your house hunt, as well:

1. Neighborhood fit. Trying to decide between two very different but both compelling parts of town? Planning to relocate and just want to get the lay of the land? You’re not alone — a recent house-hunter survey by Google revealed that neighborhood research is the No. 1 quest of the savvy homebuyers who use video in their home search.

Search YouTube for the name of a district, neighborhood or town and see what videos come up — you’ll likely uncover videos including:

  • home videos of neighbors filming the fun at weekend farmers markets and festivals.
  • local Neighborhood Watch and city council meetings.
  • a smattering of listings of homes for sale (which can help you understand the overall look and feel of the whole neighborhood).
  • real estate companies, agents and neighborhood merchant associations giving you video "tours" of the area.

2. Property nuances. As the house-hunting process has moved online, the number and quality of listing photos has grown. And while a picture is worth a thousand (or so) words, static images also have their limits. They can and are often doctored, stretch and polished so much that it can be very difficult to use only photos to get an accurate understanding of light and scale — especially the scale of rooms relevant to each other.

Also, it is difficult for a photographer to capture all corners and both detailed and larger spatial elements of a room or an area in a single shot.

These are the sorts of items that video does better than static images — fortunately for buyers, an increasing number of agents are having professionally shot videos prepared for their listings.

Check the detailed property description in an online listing or go to the home’s dedicated website (if a URL for it is listed on the flier or online) to see whether there is a video of the property available for viewing. Also, sometimes simply searching Google or YouTube for "name of city, name of state" and "home for sale" will turn up a number of listing videos, though it can be difficult to tell whether the videos are for homes currently listed for sale or already sold properties without calling the agent or doing additional research.

3. Agent-matching. Some agents have begun actually posting a basic "nice to meet you" video, briefing prospective clients on themselves, their background, their philosophies and approach.

I’ve also been impressed with some of the local market reports and briefings that agents are posting on YouTube, as well as the neighborhood briefings, including interviews with local merchants that provide the neighborhood’s flavor and insider insights and tricks to enjoying life in the neighborhood. You can often find these videos without even trying, by searching YouTube for a neighborhood name or for your city and state plus terms like "Realtor," "real estate agent," "real estate market" or "home for sale."

The one caveat is that many fantastic agents aren’t yet posting video, so you don’t want to rely on video as your exclusive source for finding an agent. Yet and still, these videos can help you find the just-right agent fit, whether you’re looking for a highly analytic market expert or an agent who knows everything there is to know about living the good life in a particular neighborhood. They are also a smart tool for narrowing down a list of agents your friends and family members have referred to a choice few that you want to meet with, or for a buyer moving to a new area to find a few agents to talk to about his moving plans.

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