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4 Methods For Your Mobile House-Hunt Madness

4 methods of using mobile apps to discipline your home search and get the right home with no wasted effort.

newsletter-blog-010513Even if it took a few years to truly incorporate smartphone apps into your life, by now, one thing is probably clear: There’s no going back. The uber-convenience of instant information — anytime, anyplace, at your fingertips — is nothing short of addictive. I know one toddler who is frustrated that her television screen doesn’t respond to her attempts to swipe it, and a number of tweens who don’t get the idea of a phone with a cord that does nothing but let you talk to someone.

For some, mobile real estate apps are the most addictive around. If you simply love to peruse houses, love to see exteriors and interiors, or love to see what homes all over the country are selling for, the Trulia app, for instance, is probably on your home screen. (As far as I’m concerned, if you have to have a vice, an addiction to seeing beautiful homes is not the end of the world!)

But once it’s time to move from house hobbyist to real, live house hunter, things change. It’s very easy to become obsessed with perpetually checking your app, going out on constant scattershot viewings the moment you see things, or tweaking your search price range and geographics without giving it much thought (just to see!). Real talk: You’re trying to use mobile as a tool to solve a problem here — the problem of finding and buying a home. Obsessively clicking “Search” is not the means to that end.

On top of that, you’ll also want to make sure you find the best solution (home), with the most efficiency (time, money, etc.) and strategic smarts (not driving yourself wild with anxiety or overwhelm). What you need is a little method to avoid the madness that mobile house hunting can bring. Here are a few methods to try on for size!

1. The set-it-and-forget-it method. If you’ve used a house-hunting app like Trulia before, you’ve at least been exposed to one of the most powerful tools it provides: alerts. While it sounds somewhat alarming, the upshot of an alert is that it actually allows you a measure of peace in knowing you can set up some search terms and have Trulia notify you when new listings meeting those criteria come onto the market.

The power of search alerts is that they allow you to set up the system to do the work for you, resting assured that the app will reach out and touch you when it needs to. Having set search alerts that you trust to notify you of suitable new listings can also inject some discipline against price creep and panic-driven home spec changes during your house hunt.

The thing is, it’s not a peaceful arrangement if you’re constantly second-guessing yourself and your search criteria, or you otherwise feel the need to constantly worry about what you might be missing. There’s a calibration period you might need to go through, in which you set up search alerts but also do proactive, manual searches to massage your search criteria until you feel confident that your manual searches aren’t finding any listings that your alerts aren’t also serving up. Then you’ll feel more comfortable setting it and actually forgetting it. (Until the next alert, that is.)

If, later in your house hunt, you do decide to make a strategic change to your search criteria, just remember to go back in and edit your search alerts accordingly — it’ll take you less than five minutes.

2. The drive-around method. Early in your house hunt, this method rocks. If you don’t know the ZIP codes you’re looking in, want to make sure you explore new parts of town, or just happen to find yourself in a neighborhood you love, practice the drive-around method. It’s highly sophisticated. When you’re physically in an area you would love to live in, pull out your phone and open your Trulia app. Better yet, if you happen to find yourself in front of a home with a for-sale sign in the yard, you can just go to your app and get the inside information, then send it straight to your agent to get inside.

The app will automatically surface all the homes for sale and recent sales in the neighborhood and give you efficient access to details like the ZIP code, neighborhood name, and even info about local schools, commutes, and crime stats. One of my favorite things is to use it to find the nuances of neighborhood flavor: what are the hot spots in the area, what are the nearby parks and shops, restaurants, and more. If you’re in a new town or neighborhood, it’s not at all bizarre to reach out to an agent you find via the app and connect with them right then and there!

3. The open-house method. Early-stage house hunters often use open-house window-shopping to get acclimated to what they can get for their dollar in their target neighborhoods. But open houses also provide powerful opportunities for late-stage house hunters who are ready to make offers: They offer a time slot when you and your agent can meet regularly and predictably to see multiple target properties at once, in their best light, without having to book individual appointments with individual sellers. You can even find other nearby open houses or listings that weren’t on your radar so you can visit or drive by them while in the neighborhood.

4. The market-method matchup. Loop your agent into how you plan on using mobile during your house hunt from the very beginning. It’s essential to match your strategy to the dynamics of your market. In some markets, as rough as it seems, you might need to be immediately responsive to a new listing that piques your interest. If your market is one in which great homes sell at warp speed, you’ll need to send the listing to your agent via your app the moment you get an alert.

In other, more sanely paced markets, you and your agent might simply want to set up a regular check-in once or twice a week to talk through new listings and make plans for viewing them.

In any event, it’s ideal to have a clear understanding of the best way to get your agent briefed on the listings you’ve found via the mobile app — and vice versa. If your app of choice is Trulia, ask your agent if they can send you their suggested listings from Trulia too!