In the market for a house? There's an app for that
A plethora of new apps that cull a range of useful information for those looking to buy, rent or renovate a home has hit the market.
Some apps are designed to greatly enhance the experience by dramatically reducing the time consumers would spend researching, say, schools or neighborhood demographics. Others can help them avoid making costly mistakes by allowing them to visualize what an upgrade on their home would look like before they spend the money.
For instance, several new apps can access school, demographic and crime statistics as quickly as you can tap and swipe -- information you'd likely spend hours trying to gather because real estate agents won't provide it.
Another app can tell you about property values and mortgage information of any given house -- useful information for people who may want to approach an owner in a high-demand, low-supply neighborhood to try to buy a house that's not listed.
Another app helps you visualize what your home would look like with various landscaping options.
"Renters and buyers are looking for some of the same information," says Jamie Moyle, CEO of RealtyTrac. "They want to know about neighborhood amenities so they can decide if they'll be happy in a particular area, and they want to know about crime so they know if they'll feel safe."
We asked real estate experts to suggest the apps their customers find most useful. Here are 13 apps that can help you research a neighborhood; find a home to buy or rent; learn about transit and walking options; upgrade your home; and even find the lender with the best mortgage rates:
Heather Embrey, an associate broker with McEnearney Associates in McLean, Va., says she's often asked about demographics in various neighborhoods, but Fair Housing laws prohibit agents from sharing information about crime statistics and the racial, ethnic or religious makeup of a community.
She recommends several apps that provide easily accessible information about neighborhoods, which can be used by renters and homebuyers.
• Dwellr: Dwellr is an app developed by the Census Bureau based on information garnered in the agency's American Community Survey, Embrey says. The GPS-based search app provides information on 40 topics for every neighborhood, so you can find out things such as how many residents are single or married, the median age of residents, the number of college graduates, the racial and ethnic background of residents, the preferred method of commuting and median home values.
Dwellr even generates a list of 25 top places for you to live based on your preferences.
• Homefacts: Homefacts, a subsidiary of housing data provider RealtyTrac, offers an app that allows consumers to search for information about an area based on their location, an address, a city or a ZIP code.
Users can filter the information based on what they are interested in knowing about the area in a two-mile radius around an address.
"Buyers want to make a good investment decision when they buy a home, so they need more information than they can get from an airbrushed brochure from a real estate agent," Moyle says. "Homefacts not only includes information about a property itself, but gives you complete demographics, information about crime risk, complete details about registered sex offenders, former drug-lab locations and what we call 'parcel risk' to property that evaluates whether the area is prone to landslides, sinkholes, earthquakes, tornadoes and floods."
• GreatSchools: School performance can impact home values, so even buyers without kids often want to know about the local schools. GreatSchools, which doesn't require an app but has a mobile-optimized website, provides ratings based on test scores and a variety of other factors. More than 200,000 public, public charter and private schools are reviewed on the site by parents and educators.
"Realtors can tell the buyers about which school district a home is located in and certainly some buyers come to me knowing exactly which one they want to be in," Embrey says. "Some buyers like to use the GreatSchools app, which provides scores for schools based on algorithms, but realistically I think you have to take the data with a grain of salt and go see a school for yourself to see if it's a good fit for your kids."
• AroundMe: Neighborhoods are about more than crime and schools, of course. Renters and buyers who want to know about amenities such as the closest coffee shop or cafe may want to try the AroundMe app. The app has icons to make it easy to search for what you want, is available for locations around the globe and can be used in seven languages.
"You can set the app to any location and filter it to find out what you want to know, such as the closest public transportation and the nearest restaurants," says Mike Alderfer, an agent with Redfin in Washington. "It's great if you're new to the area or new to a neighborhood, because you can use it to figure out where you would go if you lived in a particular community."
House- and apartment-hunting apps
The volume of listings for apartments and homes to rent or buy and the number of sites that supply this information can be overwhelming, but a few apps can help you narrow your search.
• RadPad: The RadPad app allows you to go into a neighborhood and search for rentals based on your location or to browse listings in a particular area, says Jonathan Eppers, co-founder and CEO of RadPad. "Each listing includes at least three photos so it works like Instagram," Eppers says. "The listings aren't limited to apartments, either, so you can find a condo that's being rented, a townhouse, a single-family home or a duplex. In Los Angeles, we list houseboats, too."
Eppers says RadPad updates its listings constantly so there's less risk of finding something that's already been rented.
RadPad has a "DriveTime" feature that estimates how long it will take to get from a particular rental to another location via car, bus, bike or on foot.
Once you find a place, you can use RadPad to pay the rent even if your landlord doesn't use the system, Eppers says. The company sends a check on your behalf and tracks the payments so you can avoid late fees.
• RealtyTrac: RealtyTrac's new mobile app allows users to find complete property information with the click of a photo, even on properties that are not listed for sale, says Moyle. "Buyers can jump ahead of the sales process because we can do a home value estimate on a property and tell them how much the owners owe on their mortgage," Moyle says. "The buyers can approach the owners and find out if they're willing to sell and basically create their own inventory. Some owners don't realize how much equity they have, so this is a good tool for them, too."
Users can find out about nearby listings or recent sales with the app, too.
• Redfin: Embrey says that even though she's not a Redfin agent, she admits that Redfin has one of the best apps around for buyers. "Because Redfin is a brokerage with direct access to the MLS [multiple listing service], we get real-time updates so that our listings are accurate," Alderfer says. "It's easy for buyers to search for new listings and to search for listings near a particular location."
Alderfer says buyers can benefit from the "agent insights" feature which lets agents leave both positive and negative notes on a home they have seen, such as "the basement bathroom isn't finished" or "the second bedroom is big enough to be a second master bedroom," which can help buyers decide whether to visit a home.
The app can be used to search within a particular school district, or you can use the search nearby function to find everything on the market around you.
Transportation options affect everyone, so these apps can be helpful before, during and after a home search.
• WalkScore: "WalkScore has expanded beyond just giving each location a score on how close it is to stores and amenities," Alderfer says. "Now they have BikeScore to show you how close it is to bike lanes and bike-sharing stations and TransitScore to show you how well buses" and subways serve an area.
You can also search for apartments on WalkScore based on transit options or commuting distance.
• Parkmobile: This app can be hugely helpful when renters or buyers are looking at multiple properties in a particular neighborhood and don't want to have to rush back to feed their parking meter, Alderfer says. The app lets you remotely pay the meter so you're not tied to a particular time.
You can opt in for notification when your meter is getting ready to expire, saving money on parking tickets.
These apps can provide you with specialized help, whether you're in the early stages of a home search or already own a home.
• Bankrate: "There are lots of mortgage calculators out there, but I think Bankrate has the best app for quick calculations when you're trying to estimate affordability," Alderfer says. "You can put in your down payment and the home price to calculate your buying power, or you can do it the opposite way and enter an amount you're comfortable with as a monthly payment, such as $2,000, and find out what size mortgage that would buy."
Alderfer says buyers can factor in condo fees and taxes and insurance to help them figure out the true monthly cost of a home and their buying power.
In addition, the site has updated interest rate information so you can more easily estimate your costs based on current mortgage rates.
• Pro Landscape: Whether you're trying to envision what a home would look like with a new landscape scheme or want to develop a plan for a home you already own, the Pro Landscape app lets you take a photo of the property and then create an ideal landscape with photos of trees, shrubs, grass, flowers and "hardscape" features such as paving stones, walls, walkways and outdoor fireplaces.
While the app works on smartphones, too, the features are easiest to see and use on larger tablet screens.
You can share designs with social media and use the "find a professional" feature to locate a local contractor or garden center to help you with your project.
• DocuSign: This app allows you to electronically review and sign documents from your smartphone so you can write an offer or accept an offer instantly. "In a competitive environment, speed is essential, and this app allows you to make a fast move instead of waiting until you can get in front of a computer or to meet in person," Alderfer says.
DocuSign lets you convert forms so they can easily be completed. It can also be beneficial after you buy a home, since you can use it to review contracts and estimates for home improvement projects.