(Washington Post illustration of BigStockPhoto and iStockPhoto)

Shopping for a home can be stressful. Not only is it one of the biggest financial decisions that most people make in a lifetime, but choosing the place that your family will call home can also be an emotional experience. It’s a big decision, investment and commitment. Luckily, advances in technology are helping to simplify the home-buying experience.

In Washington, the ongoing lack of inventory creates a highly competitive environment for house hunters, further exacerbating the stressful nature of the home-buying experience.

While many other tasks have gone digital and can now be completed with a few swipes on a smartphone, in most cases purchasing a home still requires personal visits to physical locations.

The Internet has alleviated some of the more time-consuming aspects of the home-buying process. Buyers and their agents can now streamline the process by researching potential homes online first and then conducting in-person visits only to those properties they are serious about purchasing.

More recently, social media and mobile applications have simplified the home-buying process even further, with features designed to help buyers and their agents filter out homes that don’t match their criteria. Here are a few examples:

The new word of mouth
We’re seeing more and more real estate agents leveraging the visual media of social networks such as Instagram and Facebook to market their properties, which is great for serious buyers who want an easy way to keep up with the latest listings and get in touch with their agent.

Buyers also are tapping into their social networks to get recommendations on the best local agents to work with and the top neighborhoods to check out. Social media are powerful tools for simplifying the home-buying process because they amplify the very best marketing tool for real estate — word of mouth.

Big data, big impact
Probably the most important part of any real estate decision is location, and the newest technologies streamline the process of finding the right home in the right place through big data. For example, INRIX’s Drive Time application allows real estate agents to identify potential properties for their clients within a specific commute of the buyer’s workplace.

Before, buyers had to estimate their commute by calculating the distance in miles and assume they would travel at the speed limit. Today’s tools use real-time traffic information to calculate how long a commute will really take. For Washingtonians who have experienced an hour-long commute to drive just a few miles in gridlocked traffic, tools like these will be invaluable for finding their next home.

Mobile home-buying
While we’ve come a long way in terms of conducting the initial research for a home search, the Washington-area housing market moves fast, so serious buyers need more to stay ahead of the game. This is where mobile apps come in, providing buyers and their agents access to the information they need on the go.

Apps tied to the multiple-listing-service database, such as Homesnap, have the most current information on listings in the area, and they allow buyers to filter their search by practically any criteria — school zone, property history, preferred Zip codes, number of bedrooms, square footage and more.

To streamline their home search, buyers should look for an app that enables them to share favorite properties with an agent directly in the app. Direct sharing cuts down on the time that buyers and agents spend emailing listings back and forth, so buyers can move more quickly when they find a house they want to call home. Plus, you can invite others into the conversation and share photos and neighborhood statistics.

As you search for your new home this fall, take advantage of these new technologies and tools to help simplify the house-hunting experience in and around Washington.

David Charron, chief strategy officer of Rockville-based multiple-listing service Bright MLS, writes an occasional column about the Washington-area real estate market.