Buying a house can be challenging, to say the least. Even if you have a down payment ready to go and get a pre-approved mortgage, it’s a seller’s market in many regions of the country. This means that you’ve got to move fast if you want to land the house you have your eye on.
While there is no substitute for touring a house in person -- hopefully more than once -- buyers who want a leg up can use real estate apps to instantly view listings right when they hit the market. Access to floor plans, images, and details of the property can help save you time and energy looking at properties that you or your realtor thought sounded like a great fit. To help you with your house-hunting search, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite apps.
Take a look:
Powered by Realtor.com, Doorsteps Swipe is like Tinder for selecting your next home. Doorsteps Swipe helps you create a personal profile based on your stage of life and home preferences. For example, I set up a profile as a first-time married homebuyer with no kids and a dog (which isn’t me, but was a fun profile to create). Taking it a step further, I took a Doorsteps Swipe quiz which narrowed down my preferences to urban locations near public transportation. To personalize the options even further you can then enter your specific financial situation (such as the amount of money you earn and expected down payment amount), as well as cities and neighborhoods you’re interested in, your must-have home features and more. You can flip through suggested homes and either "save" or "pass" on each one to create a customized list.
I bought a house last winter and I wish I knew this app existed when I was house hunting. Using Homesnap, you can take a picture of any house, and bam! You gain access to everything you need to know about the house without actually going through the front door. This includes aerial view photos from Google Maps, sales history, basic interior home features, market information, local school ratings, economic trends in the area, and even relevant real estate news culled from various sources. You can save your searches, bookmark them, and sign up for email alerts. You can also choose whether to receive alerts in real time, daily, or weekly. Another cool feature: Once you snap photos, the app will save your pictures so you can pull them up on the fly or even send them via text to your realtor.
Zillow is often touted as one the most downloaded real estate apps, with more than two-thirds of its total traffic generated from mobile devices. This well-known tool is a takeoff on the company’s popular website, and culls from a database of more than 100 million homes. Using the app, information and statistics on houses are available in a snapshot version, complete with an interactive map and home value estimates, which it coins Zestimates. Among the Zillow features, you can view home values via a bird’s eye view map and then click on a particular house to learn more (even if it’s not for sale). You can also view listings in a neighborhood based on criteria such as homes which are the most or least expensive, the largest, in a great school district, and more. Anyone can use the app, but if you register you get access to more features. For example, if you’re a registered user, you can save searches and Zillow will notify you when new home listings come on the market. You can also view reports on home values and market trends.
Owned by Zillow, Trulia offers its own app to help house hunters find the perfect home. Trulia expands on Zillow’s offerings by grouping listings into specific categories such as lofts, victorians, homes with hardwood floors, houses with pools, those with remodeled kitchens, houses in safe neighborhoods, and more. Trulia also offers an informative (and sometimes entertaining) blog with stories focusing on a variety of real estate topics like "Turkey Time! 7 Homes for Sale with Tiny, Cozy Kitchens" and "Want to Be Financially Secure? Buy a House."
During my house hunting experience, real estate company Redfin became my best friend. The Redfin app is tied into the Redfin real estate company, known for its technology-driven business model and map-based real estate searches, but you don’t have to be a Redfin client to use the app; anyone can use it for free. The map feature allows you to zero in on an area and then tap an icon to instantly see a house and all the relevant listing information. To do a bit more research, you can even tap on your current location to view houses that recently sold in the area or find listings all around you. Better yet, you can find open houses, send listings to your realtor, and set up searches and alerts.
Besides the mapping technology, here’s what I really like about the Redfin app: You can see new house listings faster than anywhere else (within 15 minutes of being listed). Another cool feature is that Redfin highlights "Hot Homes" and predicts the number of days it will take for these houses to get an offer. So if you’re leisurely browsing listings and really like a "Hot Home," you might want to hustle over to see it in person.
Maximizing your search
You wouldn’t settle on picking the first house you look at (unless it’s just that good); you’ll want to tour a broad choice of homes to find the one that fits your family’s needs and budget best.
The same should be said about using the above apps in your house hunting. By selecting and downloading the best ones, and accessing the features that suit your needs best, these apps can become the perfect matchmaker to connect you and your new home for years to come.