This weekend we'll all be watching or half-watching Super Bowl XLVII (47 for all you non-Romans). It's our annual fest of football, chicken wings and hero sandwiches -- much longer than the 12 inches that Subway claims to serve. Something else happens after the game, however, that folks like me enjoy, the refocusing of attention on real estate.
With only Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day ahead, then a long stretch to Easter and Passover, thoughts turn to where we'll live and that means real estate will be paramount in our minds once again. Not that open houses, offers and sales don't happen from before Thanksgiving through the Super Bowl, but buyers' attention is diffused by the holiday festivities, shopping and winter travel. Now it's back to business, my business.
There's been an awful lot of new real estate application software and much of it has focused on tools for the smart phone market to help consumers locate their perfect house.
The near explosion of tools can make you wonder if you're on top of the latest and greatest ones. The old standbys are much improved and a new flock of software has also come onto the scene.
Here's what's happening for you smart phone users, especially iPhone, iPad and Android users who are house hunting.
Realtor.com ver. 4.5
This king of real estate software applications has matured nicely to become a full-featured connection of consumers to all of the multiple listing services on planet Earth (OK, just in the U.S.). It now shows by map or text display all of the properties that meet your search criteria and includes tags with dates indicating when properties were recently taken off the market. This is a boon to buyers who wish to swoop down and make an offer to a very disappointed seller whose listing just expired or was removed for another reason. Timing is everything in real estate.
It also now shows sales that are pending, meaning that an accepted offer is going through its financing and/or home inspection cycle.
Not all of these sales close and for those that don't, the seller is very approachable. Following your favorite property through this cycle and knowing about a deal that fell through can mean a savings of many thousands of dollars. Now you can "stay tuned."
Zillow ver. 5.5.4
This extremely popular application for computers and smartphones has been bashed by homeowners and Realtors alike for their Zestimates®, which put a market value on properties that in many non-homogeneous areas (like Greenwich) can be way off both to the plus and minus side. Discounting that, the features that allow users to cruise neighborhoods of choice and see what's for sale and what properties have sold for and when is very helpful in sizing up a market.
Even if you're about to place an offer on a property through your agent, this app (today's lingo for computer applications for smart phones) can put your Realtor's recommendation of an offer amount into context.
Just a quick story from my son, who lives in North Hollywood, Calif.: he follows his own house's Zestimate® value in a fairly homogeneous community of like-valued homes. He bought the home about two years ago for $365,000. Here are a few time-stamped text messages from him to me:
Jan. 7, 2013: "My house just went from $688,000 to $319,000 for no reason! In less than a day on Zillow!"
Jan. 18, 2013: "Getting close to $800,000 (on Zillow)! Time to pull out the equity!"
It's curious that the houses all around him were very stable in valuation in the $300,000s during this period. Valuations aside, one nice feature on the plus side for this app is access to foreclosure listings including pre-foreclosures, auctions and bank-owned properties.
Trulia ver. 5.7.1
This very popular app has made great strides in adding features of value to real estate buyers. You can easily distinguish the newest properties on the market, see the locations for schools and amenities on the map and get median prices and school rating information on map areas you trace with your finger by circling them.
It also has a better connection to MLS sites since I've noticed some listings that appear here that Zillow misses for some reason. There are also heat maps (color-coded overlays) for crime levels, average listing price, average sales price, median sales price and average sales price per square foot. These are key to making wise decisions on real estate.
There are many other apps, of course, that compete in this space.
I can't cover them all but I hope I've given you a flavor of what's out there today. Also of note are new apps for on-line document signing, measurement apps using your smart phone's camera for those who forgot their measuring tape and mortgage calculators that allow you to back into a purchase price based on interest rates and what you can afford each month in carrying costs.
These can all be very useful as you go through the real estate purchasing cycle. Good luck using these apps this spring.
This Week's Success Quote
"Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant."
-- Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus Development Corporation and designer of Lotus 1-2-3, the first popular spreadsheet program.
Ken Edwards is the principal Broker for Edwards & Associates and has lived in town since 1974. All opinions expressed in this column are entirely his own and not those of this publisher. Comments, questions and suggestions may be sent to K_W_Edwards@Yahoo.com or call or text him at (203) 918-4444. Questions of general interest will be addressed in this column while others will receive individual responses.