Home buyers face no shortage of questions during their search for the ideal property: How many bedrooms does the home have? What are the schools like? When did it last sell? For how much?

The answers may be in your pocket.


Lindsay Dreyer, an agent at City Chic Real Estate, said many of her clients tote a smartphone or tablet computer during home visits so they can quickly pull up information about the local school district, area restaurants and past sales information.

“It’s more about learning about neighborhoods and learning what’s around you,” Dreyer said. “That’s a value to buyers and regular people who aren’t buying.”

A stroll through the store of applications available for iPhone and Android devices shows a plethora of options for real estate related apps. A Truila app, for example, allows users to find nearby open houses and peruse the for-sale stock in desired neighborhoods.

Another app, called House Hunter, lets buyers keep a file on each property they visit, including photos of the homes and whether they meet all of the criteria on the buyer’s wish list. The app then ranks the homes by how well they match and calculates your monthly mortgage payment.

District-based Sawbuck Realty developed an iPhone application called HomeSnap that allows users to capture a picture of a home with their smartphone, and pull up such information as the home’s current value, the date and price of its most recent sale and its total square footage.

On the surface, the app is simple: Point your smartphone’s camera at a house that piques your interest and snap a photo. HomeSnap will then comb various sets of data, including county property records and real estate listings, for information about the home.

In practice, the photo itself does nothing. The app taps into the sensors that are built into the iPhone to determine your exact location when the photo was snapped and the direction in which you’re pointing the phone.

The goal of HomeSnap was to create “something that would have appeal beyond the relatively small segment of people who are actively interested in buying a home and hard-core real estate junkies who care about all the deals in their neighborhood,” said Guy Wolcott, Sawbuck’s chief executive.

Many large real estate firms have embraced a mobile strategy as home buyers, particularly those in lower age brackets, flock to the devices for information.

Century 21 created a mobile version of its Web site in 2007 and has rolled out apps for most major smartphone platforms since then. Mike Callaghan, the vice president for mobile marketing, said the apps typically see an influx of traffic on the weekends when home buyers are out in force.

“Clearly consumers have a lot of tools available to them and it’s their preference as far as what they use at any point in time,” he said. “Providing them with an application that they could put right in their own hands to facilitate the search process. . . seems like such a natural extension of the home-buying process.”

So will mobile phones come to supplant Web sites when looking for homes? Callaghan says that is not likely to happen, at least not yet.

“If we really look far out I think that could be a consideration, but I really think it is a very long-term direction,” Callaghan said. The reason, he adds, is that the small screens aren’t the best place to view photos, video and other visual content.

“There is just so much robust content that the consumer is looking for in that process that I don’t think an iPhone alone can handle that in the best manner,” he said.