Are Real Estate Mobile Search Apps a Good Idea?

I have never been a fan of technology for the sake of technology.  Although tech ideas can be very high on the cool scale they tend to usually be very low on the ROI or usefulness scale.  I am sort of perplexed by all of the hype surrounding real estate search on your mobile phone.  Trulia made a big splash back in August as the first aggregator to launch one.  I definitely got caught up in the hype as I did some personal usability with my iPhone and I will give them some credit as it is pretty slick.  As I came out of my state of technological euphoria, I began to wonder how this functionality actually enhanced the real estate search and buying experience.

Here’s the problem.   I have yet to hear a story about how someone found their home using an iPhone.  This is what happens when you get so wrapped up in how cool an app or a feature is you forget to consider what real value it has for the end user.  I hate using a “case study of one” as a legitimate rationale for why not to do something, but it’s my blog post and I am going to do it anyway.  From my previous posts you may know that I sold my house almost 3 months ago.  Unless I wanted my family (2 kids) to live with my Mom and Dad for the foreseeable future we had to find a new home, FAST!

After narrowing down the location(s) and finding the right agent, she set us up with MLS email alerts for new properties in our desired towns as that is the only way to ensure we saw every conceivable listing (yes I know we didn’t get FSBOs and pre and foreclosed properties).  If she saw a home hit the market or I saw an email alert that looked promising I would have our agent set a showing.  We repeated that process until we found the right house.  That’s it.  The process is fairly simplistic and effective if done right.

Not once during the home search process did I get the urge to pull out my phone and start looking for properties in a 10 miles radius from where I was currently standing.  Or was I ever tempted to search for open houses on the way back from my weekly Sunday trip to Costco.  Maybe I am not their target, but I severely doubt it as I have 2 mobile phones (iPhone and Blackberry), spend all of my time on the internet web and lastly, but most importantly, I was looking to buy a house!

Do not take this post as I am against all RE mobile apps, it’s just that they need to enhance a natural experience instead of trying to create a new process for something that really isn’t flawed.  Alternatively, I am a proponent for making your web site display and navigate properly on a mobile device because I don’t want to ignore the small, but growing, percentage of people who view web sites on the go.  Coldwell Banker did a good job in late September with an iPhone version of their site.

Bottom line is that mobile applications really have to add some legitimate value to the home buying process to be worthy of creating them in the first place.  As one of the newest real estate brands that has become sort of mantra for almost everything we do.

I don’t want this post to come off too negative so I am listing a few of my favorite mobile apps that aren’t just a great user experience but actually fill a void when I am not near my PC.

Jott(or Remember the Milk), Yelp & Urbanspoon.

Try’em.   I’d love to know what you think.

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