Finding a new place to live used to be all about hunting through the real estate pages of local newspapers or endless hours working through an agent's files. If you were lucky, you would find a house or apartment to buy or rent that matched your needs and your wallet. But it could be a thankless and time-consuming task.
Now the smartphone in your pocket has swept this low-tech process aside, and there are many apps to help you find a new home.
Real Estate by Zillow on iOS, which is called Zillow Real Estate on Android and Windows Phone is one of the most comprehensive apps of this type -- and one of the easiest to interact with, particularly in its iPad version. This app can help you find a home to rent or buy.
In the iPad edition, the main screen is split between a map view of the area you are interested in and a right panel that is context-dependent. When you are in "search" mode, which is activated by tapping the search bar at the top of the screen, the right menu shows you several search filters. These include properties for sale or rent, parameters like prices, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage and so on. The app has an option to show "Zestimate" prices, which is Zillow's guesstimate for the market value of many homes across the United States, a figure that might influence your house-buying deliberations.
Search results are shown in the map section, with an icon representing each property. The right screen lists these properties, each with a photo and some basic details about the location. Tapping on a property takes you to a detailed summary page, similar to the printout a real estate agent would give you. Unlike a printout, however, this page is interactive, so you can add a note or a photo that you've taken. One nice extra is the ability to define a map search area by drawing a circle on the screen. It is satisfying to scribble around an area on the map and think "I want to live there."
One challenge is that sometimes, such as when you are refining a search you have already carried out, the app's menu layout can be confusing. The Windows Phone edition also is not as complete as the Android and iOS versions. For example, it lacks the ability to draw around an area of interest on the map."
Real Estate by Trulia is an alternative that is also free on iOS and Android. It displays best in the tablet version, but the smartphone edition works in a similar way. This app resembles Zillow's. But the app feels more professional, and its design is less fussy, with simpler menus.
Where Trulia excels is in the additional data it gives about the area being searched. Tapping the "layers" icon on the map section activates data-rich overlays on the map to help you narrow your potential property list. On the iPad, these layers include a crime map, a colorful "heat map" showing average sales price in the area, the locations of schools or banks, and ZIP code boundaries. A neat setting shows only properties that have recently been reduced in price. One criticism of Trulia is that navigating its options requires a lot of tapping. It is slightly laborious to use, particularly if you're hunting through hundreds of potential homes, designating some as favorites as you go.
Redfin Real Estate, free on Android and iOS, is full of the same sorts of data as the Zillow and Trulia apps, but has a fast interface. It also has visual cues, like arrows that wobble on the screen to remind you how to swap between a map search view and detailed info on a property. But this app is useful only for certain areas of the country.
For a different home-finding experience, you can use the augmented reality app Layar (free on iOS and Android). Type "real estate" into its search engine, and it will probably bring up a real estate service that is local to you. Tapping on this activates Layar's augmented reality mode; hold your phone up, and the app displays relevant properties in a view of the world taken through your phone's camera. This may not offer as much detailed data as other apps, but it works. And it makes the process more fun. I used it to find a property I'm trying to buy. QUICK CALL Oreo Skies is an entertaining take on augmented reality astronomy for Nokia Lumia Windows Phones. It uses your phone's sensors to display a chart of the night sky above you. But it also ties in to Facebook, so you can leave messages for your friends and family dotted among the stars. It is free.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.