Monday, March 15, 2010

Tech Savvy House Hunting?

As if this month weren't busy enough, I am going through the all too rare joy of house hunting in the Bay Area. Needless to say, anything that can make my job easier will be fantastic.

Here are my requirements. I want to look through real estate websites and save listings. Then, I'd like to access them on my phone while I'm driving (I mean from the passenger seat!) I would like these listings to be arranged on a map so I can travel efficiently. When I get to a listing, I want to edit the info I have on it and include new pictures and text. After I'm done having the most fun a person can have sober, I would like to go home and have all of this information populated in one place. Extra points for geotagging in a useful way.

I have an iPhone, so that's my test machine for this experiment. I played with all the apps people suggested, as well as a fresh test of things I've used in the past, just to be fair.

Realtor.com App - This is actually really close to what I need. Their website has a pretty thorough selection of houses for sale. When I log in, I can tag Saved Listings, and it remembers reliably. On the phone, I can search for new listings or get my saved list populated on a location map. I can even get driving directions or push the address to Google Maps. For each saved listing, I can give it a star rating and write notes. It also has an impressive two part drop down list of common phrases to make notes painless. So why, oh why, can I not add my own pictures to my notes? Other than that one stickler's detail, I have to say kudos to Realtor.com for writing a robust, useful app!

But I really like taking pictures, so I press on...

EvernoteEvernote App - The most popular suggestion was Evernote. I actually wasn't using it for anything before, so you can trust that my review will be completely biased. This app has a million features, but for my purposes it does require a lot of planning before I go out. Since the real estate sites are not exporting their listings to Evernote, I basically have to copy/paste them into a "note." Since I'm not using Evernote for anything else, I decided that each listing should have its own note, and the address will be the title of the note. I noticed that the app is slow, and I'm not sure that's a feature when I'm on the road trying to type with one eye (from the the passenger seat! Safety first.) Each note takes 10 seconds to load with pictures. As an aside, I noticed that the copy on my laptop was instantly synced with the copy of the note on my phone as I was writing. That I don't really care about. So after all that, I opened a copy/pasted listing note with the pretty pictures and informative text, and tried to add to it. The choice to either "Append or Copy" the note made absolutely no sense to me, so of course I deleted some of my text accidentally. Then, the icing on the cake was when I discovered (or rather didn't) that there's no way to add new pictures to an existing note! This is a dealbreaker, folks! Suddenly "a million features" felt more like "nothing special" and I moved right along.

But let us not forget, there is hope!

Flickr App - This one was tricky to find, but I believe the one published by Yahoo is what all the fuss is about. After getting sidetracked by the opening screensaver for like an hour, I logged in. If you're comparing brass tacks, I suppose you could say the Flickr app has the exact same functionality as the Evernote app for this problem. I can take a picture and associate a description, and then find the collection on a website later. The added bonus here is supposed to be the geotagging, which would be a lot more accurate if I actually was at 0°0'00"N, 0°0'00"W, (but this isn't a blog post about house boats.) Other than confirming that Location Services is turned on, I never really figured out how to fix that. Perhaps the applegoogle is just hatin' on the Yahoo Maps ;) Even if it did work, however, there isn't a map function for the phone, so I have to keep looking.

Sometimes the best ideas come from people that didn't mean it.

Tweetie App - This is not meant to be a plug for Tweetie specifically, but it is the Twitter app that I use and love. I imagine this hair-brained scheme will work with any Twitter enabled device. So if I have to choose only three out of the five golden requirements, then maybe posting live pictures and descriptions from my phone to the web is as good as any. Plus, there's a certain excessive quality to this solution that is appealing. So I haven't actually tried this, but the idea is to sign up for a Twitter account called "House Hunting 2010" and dump all of the photos and comments in a stream of consciousness. I'll post pics using a service with geo-goodness like BrightKite. The posts will all be in one place, even if the map isn't, and really after I get home I don't need the spots all on one map. I'll have to think for a while about the privacy concerns, but I bet this is the perfect time to try out that "security through obscurity" strategy I keep hearing so much about.

The things I do for science.

Google Maps - Even though I really didn't want to because I was sure it was going to be a disaster, and technically it's not even an iPhone app, in the interest of science I created a map on Google Maps. If I were just using the laptop, this solution would be a serious contender since it automatically ties Google search results with each pin on the map. It still has the problem of requiring cut/paste from real estate websites, but really the main concern is will these maps even open on a phone? I won't burst your bubble, in case you're still holding out for a happy ending.

So perhaps there's something to be said for your first instinct.

The best kind of science is the kind that validates what you're already doing. I'm going to continue to use the Realtor.com app for most of my house hunting activities. The major question is which strategy will I use to take, tag, and post new pictures? I actually like the idea of iPhoto, since I already have it and I've given up on a sophisticated phone solution. Unfortunately the location service is wrong about half the time within 2-4 blocks. That's probably not sensitive enough for my purposes. So I should choose the quickest way to take a photo and then add a description. Sounds like I'll need more testing... any suggestions?

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

Marisa,

My name is Jennifer and I work for Agent Image, a real estate website company based in El Segundo, CA.

In working with hundreds of our clients on a daily basis that include both agents and brokers, we now have a number of clients that have their own iPhone app that you can use to search listings from the passenger seat of your car.

I see that there are some pretty big names listed on your page already, but it's nice to have an agent working alongside all of your house-hunting efforts, so that when you are ready to make an offer, you already have someone that you know and trust ready to go to bat for you.

I would recommend contacting agents or brokerages in the San Francisco area and asking them if they have all of the features that you need. The agent or broker can then set you up with all of these alerts, apps, etc.

I hope this is helpful, and would welcome any follow up questions. Just email me.

jennifer.cory@agentimage.com
Jennifer Cory

jgrossman said...

Hi Marisa,

I'm Josh from Springpad. We've got a free application that might work well for what you're trying to do. Springpad helps you quickly save anything you want to remember, and add in relevant notes and pictures to everything you save. (http://springpadit.com). We also have an iPhone app available (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/springpad/id360116898?mt=8).

Here are specific instructions for helping you manage your house hunting. After creating a free account, install the web clipper. When you see a listing you like, "spring it" to save it to your account without having to leave the page you're on. After you click the "spring it" button and the clipper appears, click that you want to save it as a "business" (we don't have a category for "houses" so saving it as a business will let you add in address information and generate directions.). Then click "type it in" - this is where you can save the address. After you save it, the clipper will allow you to add in any relevant tags, and also any relevant photos from the listing you're saving. After you click done, this listing will appear in your Springpad account along with links for directions if you've saved the address. You can pull it up on your iPhone and add in any other photos or notes you want. Hope this helps and let me know if you have any questions or comments! - Josh

Eileen said...

CrumbTracks is a great real estate app!