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Best Phone Apps for Home Buyers

California real estate agents talk about best apps

March 14, 2016

By RICHARD SCHEININ San Jose Mercury News - Tribune News Service

SAN JOSE, California -- In the Bay Area's competitive real estate market, agents are always looking for a tech-based advantage. They use FaceTime to sell houses sight-unseen to foreign buyers. They hire drone photographers to get that aerial money shot of the cliff-side mansion that's about to hit the listings.

And they use lots of different apps.

The San Jose Mercury News asked three agents to tell us about their favorite app -- not about the latest app or the quirkiest app, but about a single app that they and their clients use most frequently and consider most useful. The most functional. The tried and true.

Here's what they came up with.

There are numerous search apps on the market, including popular ones from Trulia, Zillow and

But Bay Area agent Julie Ray said Redfin's mobile app is the one that's "huge with my clients. Because you can be somewhere, wherever that is, and find out how much a house sold for by just standing in front of it and plugging in the address and it'll give you the information. It's up to date and it's timely. I find it to be most accurate."

Actually, you don't even have to type in the address. Looking at the map on your phone, you just touch the icon that corresponds to the house in front of you. Up pops your information.

Updating listings every 15 minutes, the app lets prospective buyers search a data base -- more than 70 million addresses -- by neighborhood, school zone, ZIP code and city.

It lets customers draw their own search -- customize it by outlining an area on the map with their finger -- and set filters for price, size and type of property. Redfin then sends updates and alerts about price changes and homes coming on the market that meet the users' search criteria.

Among its other features, the app lets users search for open houses and share comments and information with friends and Redfin agents. (Developed in Seattle and San Francisco, the app works in 83 major U.S. markets; wherever the Redfin brokerage operates.)

Ray, who works for Coldwell Banker, finds the app to be "very much consumer-based and useful. My clients love it. You can point to where you are on the map and it will populate the screen with all the homes that have recently sold around you or that are on sale right now. The green ones have prices for sale and the blue ones are the ones that have sold. So if you've been to a house and you want to see others in the area, you can do it. You search for open houses, you find out what's on the market. It's pretty cool."

The ubiquitous home improvement app lets customers -- there are millions of them -- access design recommendations and a vast gallery of high-res photos. One sifts through the images by city, style or keyword: want to see photos of crown molding? You'll see plenty.

In the real estate world, the app (launched in Palo Alto in 2009) is popular with home sellers, said area broker Rainy Hake, of Alain Pinel, "because they may be thinking, 'How can I update my house and get it ready to list?'"

Prospective buyers use it to research, say, the types of kitchens or bathroom styles that interest them.

"And once they purchase the home, they build off of that. Some people aren't able to re-imagine it themselves. So Houzz acts like a design application, and it also connects homeowners to contractors and to the stores that sell particular products. It even tells them the price. 'You can get this chair at Pottery Barn for $2,000.'"

Hake gives a personal example: "I just purchased a house last year, a Colonial-style home built in 1924, and I wanted to remodel it. So I used Houzz to get a bunch of ideas, not just about color schemes that go together, but, for instance, how to use crown moldings -- there are so many crown molding choices, I had no idea. You pick up your phone and look at the app and it shows what styles are historically relevant while also giving you other ideas to keep the project a bit more modern. It's kind of like Pinterest: you can create idea boards for your living room or bedroom. You find photos of what interests you and pin it to your board. You throw all those design ideas up there and go to work."

Snap a photo of a home, anywhere, and out pops a magic boxful of information drawn from MLS listings, property tax records, census data and more. Want to know when the house last sold? You shall know. Want to see interior photos? If the house is listed, it's a good bet that you shall see.

"I use it if I'm driving down the street," said agent Jennifer Branchini, past president of the East Bay Association of Realtors. "I'll open up Homesnap. Maybe I'm being a tourist in another city. I come out of a restaurant, see a property and think, 'Oh my gosh, I wonder how much that home is worth.' So I'll open Homesnap and take a picture and get all the information.

"I like the fact that I can send free private messages to my clients," she said, "even if they don't have the app; it sends the messages as texts. So you can send a link with the property photo and details and chat about it. The mapping feature is useful, too. I can snap a picture and it keeps a history of all my snaps. It's super-cool."

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