85% of Californians Used a Mobile Device to Help Buy a Home in 2015
It took Maria Nuques 24 hours to find her dream home in Chino after her escrow fell through on another house.
Using her Galaxy smart phone while riding the Metrolink back and forth to work in Los Angeles, she lined up five possible homes, including the five-bedroom house with a pool she and her husband bought last month.
Suzy Kim got remodeling bids on her new San Clemente home before her purchase was complete, using her iPhone and iPad to map out rooms, find building materials and compile photos to show her contractor.
Both Nuques and Kim did all of this on their mobile phones thanks to a bevy of real estate apps that have revolutionized the process of buying and setting up a new home.
Nuques used Zillow to find homes. Kim, who was in the market for a fixer-upper, used Houzz to create ideas for a top-to-bottom remodeling of the house she bought a year ago.
It used to be that mobile apps were the future. Now they're routine.
Eighty-five percent of Californians used a mobile device to help them buy a home last year, according to the California Association of Realtors' 2015 Home Buyer Survey.
Ninety-five percent of them used their phones and tablets to research homes, 20 percent to research neighborhoods and 14 percent to take photos, the survey said.
Dozens of apps give consumers access to home listings.
In addition, there's an app that finds a home's data by snapping its picture; an app that shows how much natural sunlight a home gets; an app describing a home's surroundings; and apps for planning the decor and remodeling of homes.
"Having all these websites is just fantastic. You don't waste any time. You don't have to drive around," said Nuques, a 53-year-old nurse who moved with her husband, parents and son shortly after New Year's. "It's all on your phone. I love it."
For years, the real estate industry fretted that all this new technology would replace agents the way the Internet has gutted many other industries. Just the opposite is true.
More than 90 percent of Californians used a real estate agent to buy a home in 2015, up from just over 70 percent in 2002, the Realtor survey showed. They just did a lot of the work themselves on computers and phones before hiring an agent.
Here's a look at some of the most useful apps available to home shoppers.
There are dozens of apps with listings, many of them tied to Realtor-run multiple listing services. Some also include listings from for-sale-by-owner sites and other sources.
Many apps use your phone's GPS to find homes around you. Some provide price and property tax histories as well as comparable homes in the area. Other features allow you to narrow your search by area, price and amenities as well as to find open houses.
But just four dominate: Zillow, Realtor.com, Trulia and Redfin. CAR's survey showed that 79 percent of homebuyers who found their property online last year did so through one of those four sites.
Forty percent of homebuyers rated Zillow's app as most useful, followed by 22 percent who gave that rating to Realtor.com, and 16 percent to Trulia.
Realtor.com and Zillow have been battling for supremacy almost since Expedia founder Richard Barton launched Zillow in 2006. Realtor.com's latest salvo is a spot on YouTube that's an apparent spoof of HBO's "The Leftovers," highlighting Zillow's "missing" listings.
"There are more homes for sale than Zillow's showing you," the spot says.
Consumers believe otherwise. According to the Internet analytics firm comScore, Zillow ranked first among real estate app providers, with 9.2 million visitors in November.
Realtor.com's network ranked second with 4 million visitors. Trulia, which Zillow recently acquired, ranked third with 3.1 million visitors, and Redfin ranked fourth with 1.1 million visitors.
Some agents agree Realtor.com, owned by News Corp., is more up to date. Agents say clients sometimes ask them to check homes found on Zillow or Trulia, only to discover the properties had been sold nine months to a year earlier.
Talks are underway that may soon provide Orange County homebuyers with direct access to portions of the Realtor-run multiple listing service.
Agents long have been getting that data on their phones through MLS Touch. The California Regional Multiple Listing Service, which serves Orange County, is seeking to add a consumer version called MLS Client, which homebuyers could get from their agents.
The app could be available locally within the next few months.
"The biggest thing about MLS Client is the accuracy and the connection to your agent," said Scott White, an agent with Keller Williams in Mission Viejo who tested the app.
In addition, several Orange County brokerages also maintain their own apps. Among them: Surterre Properties, CR-MLS's HomeSeekers and Seven Gables' Orange County Homefinder.
Some of the same names used to buy a home are available to find a rental, too.
Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com all have rental searches on their sites.
Other popular sites include craigslist (beware of scams, however), Apartments.com, Rent.com, HotPads, RadPad, HotPads, Lovely, and PadMapper.
All of them are available for free with search features and tons of data about rentals, complexes, amenities and management phone numbers.
About 350,000 people have downloaded WSR Rentals, an app by Santa Monica-based Westside Rentals, which serves Orange County. Subscribers pay $60 for 60 days of listings.
Company President Kevin Miller maintains that his firm has listings not available on other sites, including guest houses and small apartment buildings.
"Over the last four years, year by year, more of our (online) traffic is mobile than desktop," Miller said. "Nearly 50 percent of all our traffic now is mobile."
In addition to helping you find a home, there are apps to help you research the neighborhood, the property and close the deal. Here are some of the apps local agents recommended:
AroundMe: Allows you to find the nearest bank, bar, gas station, movie theater and supermarket, along with other types of services. (Free)