Finding out about that house for sale (or the one you've always coveted) is now as easy as pointing and shooting. With Homesnap, an app created by a Washington company formerly known as Sawbuck, you take a picture of the home with your phone or tablet, and before you reach the end of the block the app will tell you how many bedrooms and bathrooms the house has, how long it has been on the market, whether the price has dropped, what year it was built, what its walkability rating is and what public schools are nearby.
All this information is available on other real estate websites, but usually you have to type in an address or scroll through a list to find the home you are looking for. Homesnap's point-and-click ease puts it ahead of the competition. It doesn't cover every housing market, it does include listings in the Washington area, as well as Baltimore and Philadelphia.
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To test the app's accuracy, I compared the information I obtained by taking a photo of a house in Annandale with the listing from MRIS, the area's multiple-listing service, given to me by a real estate agent. They were nearly identical. The only details that varied were the schools; Homesnap listed the wrong middle and high schools, a problem for parents whose home-buying decision is driven by the school their children will attend.
Homesnap also provided 24 photos of the property; listed the price and date of the last sale; suggested similar listings and recently sold homes in the neighborhood; allowed me to favorite, comment, recommend or share my photo; and suggested an agent (names are generated by how frequently an agent uses the app in a ZIP code).
Homesnap also offers information on homes not on the market, though the details are limited and not as reliable.
I found only a couple of downsides when using the app. At times, I struggled to get my phone to take a picture of a house, and Homesnap's advice to wave my phone in a figure-eight motion didn't help. I appreciated the stealth feature, which allows you to locate a house via GPS rather than taking a photo of a stranger's home, but it sometimes came up with the wrong address. The app also wasn't as accurate when I was standing in front of a group of row houses or was in my car. And it doesn't work on new construction.
Those frustrations aside, I think Homesnap will prove handy for house hunters -- and potentially addictive for nosy neighbors.