The Best New House-Hunting Tools

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It’s spring, which means we are now officially in house-hunting season. More houses are up for sale and real estate agents are back on the prowl. And despite all the problems with the economy, it seems that this year, Americans have an appetite for buying homes once again. Home sales last month increased significantly compared with March 2009. Some of that is likely due to the homebuyer tax credit, which expires this week, but a recent survey showed that the majority of Americans plan to continue shopping for houses even after the credit runs out.

With all that in mind, we thought we’d bring you a few new tools that can make your search for the perfect home easier and more successful.

Real Estate by Smarter Agent

This mobile app combines three essential housing hunting app features. It shows you homes that are currently for sale across the country as well as the prices of those that have been sold in the previous three years. But, best of all, the app allows you to locate properties for sale on a GPS map, so you can find them quickly and easily. The app is also very useful for real estate agents, as it includes a “Call to See” button that connects the user directly with the agent who listed the property.

The Smarter Agent app is available on both the Blackberry and the iPhone.

Zillow

There’s a reason Zillow is the most popular real estate application in the iPhone AppStore. It gives you all the tools you need to get started on your real estate hunt. Similar to Smarter Agent’s app, this one shows you listed homes on a GPS map so you can drive around town and seek out the best deals. Zillow’s app also offers you a great tool called the Zestimate, which tells you how much a home should be worth. While Zillow admits this isn’t an official appraisal, their estimate does take into account “location and market conditions.” The app is available on the iPhone and Android phones, as well as on the iPad (in case you just can’t leave home without it).

Zillow also has an excellent Web site for those who are smartphone-challenged. It provides a number of valuable tools including calculators to figure out your mortgage payments and street views of different properties so you don’t have to rely solely on the touched-up photos real estate agents may provide. Aside from all that, Zillow.com also provides users with a guilty pleasure - celebrity real estate news. For example, did you know that Octomom was on the verge of foreclosure but has now been granted an extra six months? Consider it a good distraction from the house hunt.

ZipRealty

The ZipRealty app lets you find homes on the market and get property estimates and appraisals. But the real perk of this app is the brand new augmented-reality feature called HomeSearch that allows users to point their smartphone and see which properties pop up in that direction. More real estate apps are expected to take advantage of that in the future, but for now ZipRealty is one of the few. The only downside of this app is that it only tells you details for homes in 22 states.

This app is available on the iPhone, the iPad and Android phones.

Trulia.com

You don’t need to have a smartphone in order to get some good tools for house hunting. Trulia.com is a great search engine for finding a place to live, whether you’re looking to buy or to rent. The site also shows you the price of homes that were recently sold and has a good database of real estate agents to help you along in the process.

Realtor.com

Realtor.com is the official Web site of the National Association of Realtors and serves as another useful online tool. It features news and tips from industry insiders as well as tools to help you appraise other homes in your neighborhood, and even information about the local school districts. Plus, there’s a section on the site to hook you up with local movers.

StreetAdvisor.com

If neighborhood rankings aren’t enough for you, then check out StreetAdvisor.com. This site essentially acts as Yelp for specific streets. You can find real reviews and feedback from people who live on the block you’re looking at and see what it’s really like to hang out in that area. Even if you’re not moving, this could be useful to learn more about the street where you currently live.

PropertyShark.com

If you’re looking to get a crazy deal on a home, you might want to check out PropertyShark.com, which collects listings for foreclosed properties across the country. The U.S. Marshals Service also runs a useful Web site for homes and other general property that has been seized. For more information about how to buy seized property, check out MainStreet’s article about seized property here.

Radio Transmissions

For those who feel like being creative, we might also recommend the radio house tour. Many realtors pre-record radio messages that get broadcast from specific properties that are for sale. Each of these messages is on a specific frequency, so if you drive by and have an FM transmitter, you can actually tune in and get the inside scoop on a property without even having to leave your car.

In addition to these ideas, State Farm recommends a few very basic tips for those going house hunting. Be sure to do some research in advance on the prices of other homes in the neighborhood, as well as general market trends. Also, it may be wise to keep a scorecard of the places you visit so you can keep track  of the pros and cons of each house. State Farm’s Web site has a very useful sheet you can print out to do just that.

Every week, Mainstreet brings you extreme real estate deals from around the world. Check out past features here.

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