House hunting made easier with mobile apps

Joan Fieldstone

May 10, 2016

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: General Remodeling

On a recent trip to visit my dad and the rest of my family in another part of the country, I got a notion to do a house hunting reconnaissance mission. Knowing I'm not in a position to buy anything until I sell my current home, I didn't want to waste the time of a real estate agent at this point. I just wanted to see what's available in the nearby vicinity that might be affordable for me. So I did what anyone with a smartphone these days can do. I downloaded a mobile app designed for house hunting. In fact, I downloaded two of them.

Trulia.com mobile app

Actually, I've had the Trulia.com mobile app on my phone for a while. I don't remember exactly when I signed up, but they send me emails every few days with homes for sale in my target area. Unfortunately, the choices they send me are not filtered for my preferences. Even when I do a search and save it, I still get the same old results -- houses out of my preferred area, houses that are too expensive, too many bedrooms, etc. It also drives me nuts that every time I open the mobile app, it asks me to download the mobile app, which has been installed on my device for months!

I should have suspected that all this foreshadowed similar displeasure with the app when I was riding shotgun trying to find the houses I'd marked for a drive-by viewing. Instead of just showing me homes for sale as we drove up and down the streets, it showed me the estimated price of every home on the block whether or not it was for sale. Maybe there was a way to see on the map only the homes for sale that were listed in my search, but I had more success looking for "For Sale" signs in the front yards than fiddling with my phone. But even when I entered a specific address, I couldn't figure out how to verify the status of a home sale. I've since read that Trulia.com is slower to update sale status than Realtor.com. My own experience would seem to confirm that, but I'm not sure if it's by a few hours or a day or so.

The Trulia.com app may work better for iPhone users. If you go to their website looking for information on how to use their mobile app, the default information is for iOS mobile devices, so perhaps Android users are at a disadvantage. Now that I'm back home and trying to check out the status of homes that I found for sale last week, it does not show updates. I finally figured out that if the home no longer shows up in a search, it's sold. Overall, using the app was not an intuitive experience and I couldn't find any help. My personal experience is that it's minimally useful and mostly frustrating.

Realtor.com mobile app

Given my level of aggravation with Trulia.com, I chose a different mobile app when I decided to target another location for my home search. Realtor.com seemed a likely choice, and I was not disappointed. By comparison, Realtor.com seemed like a breeze. The two apps provide similar information, but you have to do some extra clicking to find the same stuff on Trulia.com. With Realtor.com, you just click one button if you want to know all the details beyond the photos and the property's marketing description -- for example, are there HOA or condo fees and how much? Is the community pet-friendly? What are the property taxes? Which schools is the address zoned for?

Maybe it's simply a matter of who has a better app for Android users. While I'm not receiving daily updates from Realtor.com as I do from Trulia of homes that are coming on the market, I'm not ready to jump on any deals just yet anyway. It's enough to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and get motivated to prepare my own home for sale so I can start looking in earnest with an agent.

The biggest benefit I can see to using any of these apps is to get a rough idea of what you're looking for and narrow down your search. That can save you and an agent a lot of wasted time in the beginning and give them a good idea of where and what to start showing you. And time is crucial with how quickly the best homes appear to be selling these days.


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