Real Estate Apps (AKA PropTech) – The good, the bad and the buggy

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Technology has touched every part of our lives, and real estate is no different.  Many years ago, people would walk into a real estate office and look at a binder full of homes, and agent’s would show them.  Then came centralized databases (called the MLS), property search websites and more. Even in the last 5 or 6 years, electronic signatures are now a part of every transaction.  Landlords now have access to nationwide eviction databases, and Real Estate Investment Trusts are no longer a just for an elite few, now anyone with a phone and a bank account can have fractional ownership in a development project or an apartment building.

Most folks that go looking for houses start online (figures tell us upwards of 96% of searches start online), and the role of an agent has shifted from selling the features of a home, to the much more complex issues that have overtaken the housing market; things like competitive bidding, complex inspections, navigating the very complex post-2008 mortgage market, and the myriad of other issues that protect all parties within the conveyance of a property.  This continues to be a challenge for most agents — the perception is that our job is simplified by the internet, but the reality is that legislation, paperwork, and the migration from the suburbs and exurbs has made the average transaction much more complex with each passing year.

Rather than being overwhelmed, agents, clients, landlords, homeowners and investors should instead turn to all the

Zillow

It’s hard to talk about Real Estate websites without talking about Zillow.  For the last 9 years, they’ve been a go-to site for first-time home shoppers, curious neighbors and

The Good

  • Zillow is the only platform that allows you to look at MLS listings, For Sale by Owners, Rentals, and more all in one searchable view.
  • It can give you an idea within 20% or so of what a home is probably worth.
  • It’s an easy place to post a home or rental direct to end consumers

The Bad

  • Zillow doesn’t communicate with centralized listing databases like a lot of real estate websites do, so it relies on information entered by agents or homeowners, and often isn’t accurate.
  • Zillow’s profit comes from selling “leads” to real estate agents, meaning that if you try to contact the owner of a home you’re interested in on Zillow you aren’t actually reaching to owner, instead five or so Agents / Brokers pay to get your info and will call you. Connecting with the actual homeowner is nearly impossible.
  • Scammers use Zillow to post homes for rent that they don’t own, and then they collect deposits and disappear.  Other similar scams use homes with prices too good to be true to lure in unsuspecting would-be-homeowners who don’t know the market, or are so hopeful of getting an unreal deal that they might fork over money on a home that isn’t actually for sale.
  • The price of a home depends on so many factors, that getting an accurate price from an Automated Value Model is nearly impossible.
  • They have moved from selling leads into the iBuyer market (purchasing homes at a discount and reselling them). Their interest is now in getting the lowest price possible for a home.

In short, it’s a great place to find FSBOs, and a great place to track overall appreciation of an area. We use it to post rentals, check out foreclosures, and connecting with the buyers that use it. We’re excited to see where it goes.

DealCheck.io

DealCheck Screenshot

When shopping for an investment property, the numbers can get sticky.  There’s the cost of the debt, but also the taxes, vacancy, maintenance, income from parking, laundry, etc.  There’s pro-forma rent increases (how much could this asset profit if we brought the rent up to x amount). Really, that’s just the beginning.  DealCheck solves this with some fantastic visualizations and calculators.

It’s good at what it does, and there’s no “freemium model”.  Simply a decently priced, paid service for investor analysis of properties.

HotPads

HotPads gets our vote for the best rental listing site, because they have solved two key problems with rentals. First, they do a lot more to verify listings than most sites.  When you use HotPads, you avoid the scam listings, clickbait and “already-taken” listings that you find on most other sites.

The second problem they are good at solving is that they have far more search filters than most rental websites.  You can search by your pet requirements, move-in dates, property types, as well as transit and bicycle overlays.

We love their “verified” listings, which is the best way to connect tenants and landlords securely.

 

“Despite numerous misconceptions of both the technology industry and the property industry, we are increasingly seeing the two coming together to maximise efficiencies, increase a business’s bottom line and ultimately change the way we live and work for the better.” – Dan Hughs

Trulia

Trulia is a fantastic property search website, which helps to answer important questions about the communities you’re interested in living in, particularly things like school ratings, crime, commute and amenities. Agents are always asked by clients, particularly relocation clients, if and area is “good”, which is a subjective term.  Trulia help you find homes that are good according to your criteria.

Like most sites, they also offer the ability to “save” your search and send you new listings the moment they become available.

HomeSnap

Ever walked by a home and wondered how much it was worth?  HomeSnap solves that issue with an impressive ability to pull up a home’s pricing and sales history by just taking a picture of the home.

Some have called it “Shazam for houses.” While it can connect you to an agent, we find it most useful for on-the-go pricing history, and for when we’re on vacation and are just curious about a market we know nothing about.

They recently raised quite a bit of funding to improve their platform, and we’re excited to see what they have in store.

BiggerPockets

BiggerPockets is a super cool real estate app that helps you network, find training, deals, agents, contractors and more.  More or less a social network with podcasts, calculators, and other handy tools, this site / app deserves an honorable mention in our up and coming picks for PropTech.

Fundrise

We always love when a site makes something accessible that was traditionally very inaccessible. Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs”, are a whole investment category unto themselves.  Fundrise let’s you invest in multi-family property and big deals that normally an individual investor would not have access to.

You can search deals by location, risk profile, type and length of investment.  If you have a few thousand dollars to invest and want someone else to do all the legwork in finding and executing the deal, this is the way to go.

Realtor.com

Realtor.com has one of the most advanced searches, the most complete listing information, and the most informative articles for both industry professionals and consumers.

To be a Realtor is to be a member of the Realtor trade organization.  All members (like us!) pay dues for the services of the National Association of Realtors, which includes strict adherence to ethical guidelines, consumer research, advocacy, and of course the fantastic resources of Realtor.com and their award winning apps.

Like most property search websites, they offer links to mortgage brokers, agents and so forth, but their real power comes in the amount of information that they have. They can aggregate national trends, build heat maps, and more.  If you need complete information about a piece of property, Realtor.com is the place to get it.

ForSaleByOwner.com, FSBO, Fizber.com

Many many websites have been designed to connect sellers with buyers directly. It can be a good place to find a deal, as the average For Sale By Owner home sells for 16% less than a home listed with an agent.  It can also be challenging.  There are numerous reasons that one might choose to list one’s own home for sale.  As a consumer you have to be aware that it could be anything from mistrustful of agents, low equity, unwillingness to budge of price, or an unrealistic outlook on price.  It could also be that they are just toying with the idea of getting on the market and aren’t quite ready to commit to moving.

At any rate, they are good sites to check in with and see if the “one” might be out there for you, but not on the MLS.

Cozy.co

We’ve mentioned Cozy.co before, and it’s still one of our favorites. For landlords they offer

  • Screening services:  Keeping compliant with local laws regarding what you can look for in a background check and keeping information confidential is tricky, and they take care of that for you.  Not screening your tenants is a rookie mistake.  Reddit and other discussion sites are full of stories of tenants who seemed great but later turned out to have problems that a landlord would have liked to know about sooner.  Still, tenants have a right to keep certain information private.  It’s best to outsource this.
  • Payment services:  In our experience, most tenants are most comfortable with traditional payment methods like check, we’re seeing more and more online payment services.  This gives tenants the option to pay with credit cards, etc and can help add one layer of convenience for everyone
  • Listing syndication: Enter your property once on Cozy, and with the click of a button, you can publish it out to several sites

They also have a number of other record keeping and communication tools.  We use it every time we rent out a property!

Got a favorite app or website we should check out?  Leave us a comment below. 

Ready to look for your next home, or looking to trade up?

We combine good tools with good service to provide an exceptional experience to every client.  If you want to learn more, let’s have coffee.  You can always reach us at (206) 458-1311 or daniel@weknowseattle.com

 

 

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