Home & Garden

8 great apps for happy house hunting

Whether you’re buying or renting, mobile muses can make your search easier,
Whether you’re buying or renting, mobile muses can make your search easier, Getty Images

A bounty of new apps for those looking to buy or rent a home has hit the market.

Here are eight 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.

Data apps

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 home buyers.

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.

It 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 want to know about the area in a 2-mile radius around an address.

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: Renters and buyers who want to know about amenities such as the closest coffee shop or cafe may want to try the AroundMe app.

“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.

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.”

Eppers says RadPad updates its listings constantly so there’s less risk of finding something that’s already been rented.

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 Jamie Moyle, CEO of RealtyTrac. “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.”

Miscellaneous apps

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.

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.”