Cover story: Just browsing or ready to buy, there’s an app

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The days when homebuyers flipped through a magazine of homes for sale, peering at a small black-and-white photo to see whether a property appealed to them, are long gone.

Today’s buyers have the option of viewing hundreds of home photos online or on their smartphones and have countless pieces of information at their fingertips before they even call a Realtor or visit a home in person.

The 2010 National Association of Realtors‘ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers showed that 89 percent of homebuyers searched online for a home, while fewer than 1 percent used a home book or magazine. Although most buyers start their search online, 85 percent of those who used the Internet purchased their home through a real estate agent.

One of the newest trends for homebuyers is the use of mobile applications to find homes and gather information about properties and neighborhoods.

Century 21 recently introduced an app for all smartphone platforms that links information to the Century21.com website. Locally, Century 21 New Millennium’s free downloadable app enables buyers to search for all available properties in the Washington area.

“The mobile website is more simplistic than the usual website, so when you access it from a mobile phone, it is easier to read,” says Todd Hetherington, CEO of Century 21 New Millennium. “Buyers can search by address, by county, by ZIP code and even by state for information.

“The mobile app has all the information available on the regular website, such as the price, the number of bedrooms and baths, pictures and sometimes even pictures of the community. If the property is in a homeowners association, the site will share the fees and what amenities are included in the fees.”

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage offers the Coldwell Banker real estate app for the iPad, an application potential buyers can download for free.

“The iPad app is interactive because buyers want to do more than just search for homes,” says Darrin Friedman, branch vice president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Chevy Chase office in the District. “The way we communicate with buyers is important, so we deliver more content that matters to them, including access to videos via the iTunes channel. There are videos of homes, but also videos for things like ‘how to get your garden started in the spring.’ “

The Coldwell Banker app for the iPad enables buyers to search for homes, real estate agents and offices; view videos of listings, agents, offices and communities; view integrated data on local amenities; contact an agent or office directly from the iPad; share listings on multiple social media sites; and create a favorites section for saving searches, listings, agents, offices and videos.

“The application can be used by people who are not necessarily tech-savvy, so even someone who just bought an iPad can use it,” Mr. Friedman says. “Mobility is key in this business, because clients want information at their fingertips no matter where they are.”

Mr. Friedman says customers without an iPad can access the same information on the ColdwellBanker.com website using a computer or smartphone.

“The main value is to educate clients and give them information that is useful, whether that is about a neighborhood they didn’t know existed or a specific property or even gardening,” Mr. Friedman says.

Coldwell Banker also has introduced a real estate game similar to Sim City for iAd for iPad, accessible through banner ads on various sites on the iPad.

“We are the first to do this, which allows people to click on an iAd banner and create a city or town of their dreams based on different categories such as travel, shopping, education, restaurants and active living, then use a sliding scale to find neighborhoods and properties that meet their criteria,” Mr. Friedman says.

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