VOL. 36 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 28, 2012
Finding the right home in the palm of your hand
By Hollie Deese
It wasn’t that long ago that your first move in looking for a new house involved picking up the Sunday newspaper and circling some promising prospects. Of course, by the time you connected with the appropriate agent, many of those listings could be gone.
Or, if you were really ambitious, you drove around a neighborhood you liked scouting “For Sale” signs. Spotting one, you’d hop out to grab an information sheet with all the details and – bummer – they were all gone, too.
All that has changed as more and more information goes directly to the hands of the consumer in real time, no Realtors or one-sheets necessary.
“One of the things people say now in the industry is that your first showing, when they walk in the house the first time, is actually your second showing,” says Sam Averbuch, a partner at Zeitlin and Company. “The first showing is when they pull it up online. So we are really focused on staying ahead of the curve with technology.”
Real estate agents have really felt the pressure to stay one step ahead of the game and offer clients something they can’t find on their own in a time when sales were down overall. This includes blogs, revamping websites and launching personalized apps.
“It is hard to stay ahead of the curve, but we know it is important,” Averbuch says. “Technology has changed our industry as much as any industry. It puts a lot of information in the hands of the consumer. It used to be proprietary agent information, so we have had to figure out how to be successful and integrate some of these technologies that our clients really are demanding.”
Bob Parks Realty’s smartphone app allows users to view a neighborhood while pop-up boxes show properties for sale within view and beyond. It also shows available properties on a map.
Zeitlin launched a new mobile app in June that features at-a-glance information on a neighborhood’s home market, displaying statistics such as trends in home values and recently completed sales. This gives a buyer all the information they need about a property before they ever set foot inside the home.
In January, Bob Parks Realty also launched an app that is customized for each of its 150 agents.
“It is the greatest thing,” says Wendy Monday, a Realtor with Bob Parks. “I can give that to people who are looking for houses, and it can contact me when they are out looking by themselves.”
And if she is with a client, possibly standing in a unit in the Icon that is not quite right, pulling up the app will show them instantly which other units are for sale in the same building.
“There are still people who want to pick up flyers from boxes, but now you don’t have to do that,” she says. “It is funny how quickly things change.”
The Bob Parks app, like Zeitlin’s, uses augmented reality software to detect homes that are for sale in whatever part of town you are shopping, which can be especially helpful for out-of-towners.
Most real estate apps will, like the one pictured, show all the properties for sale in your area after establishing your location. Users can then see specs, photos and pricing information.
“If you or I were sitting in 12 South, we might have an idea of what things would cost,” Monday says. “But if you weren’t from here and were sitting at Burger Up, you can pull up the app, scan around, and it will pull up everything that is for sale in a one-mile radius. Then you can get an idea if you can afford this or need to look in another area. It kind of helps you familiarize yourself with wherever you are.”
A 2011 survey by the National Association of Realtors found the two most valuable technology tools respondents listed using were tablets, such as an iPad, and mobile apps.
“It changes so fast,” Averbuch says. “Two years ago no one even really had an iPad. Now, 80 percent of our agents carry iPads around.”
Having so much information readily available frees agents to spend more time in the field and less time in front of a copier printing reams of MLS listings.
Keller Williams was one of the first agencies to launch a local app a few years ago and has seen how fast technology has changed even in that amount of time.
The agency is in the process of updating personalized apps for all of its agents by the end of the year.
“I keep an iPad in my car, that way if I am riding with somebody they can just pull open an app and start looking at things in a certain radius around us,” he says. “Something might not be quite right, the price or criteria, but if we are on the same street and there is the ability to add on to the house in their price range, we can see that fairly easily.”
And even if you aren’t in the market for a house, the apps are great for the always curious to have on hand.
“I call it the nosy neighbor aspect of it,” Monday says. “People always want to know what the house down the street is on the market for. Or if they are at a party at someone’s house and want to know what houses cost in the neighborhood, it is a neat little tool to have.”
Other sources of information for home values and listings include zillow.com and trulia.com. In Tennessee, Chandlerreports.com tracks monthly sales by zip code and price range. It also lists residential and industrial sales.
Realtors have to fight for the business they get, and the hope is that as technology evolves, so will their role in helping bring back the housing market.
“Real estate and home prices affect our economy; they affect our personal investments,” Monday says. “Home prices and home sales have impacted everybody, so it is just good information to have.”