6 cool apps for real estate agents

Help buyers compare floor plans, investment returns, instant home valuations

With the exponential increase in the use of smartphones and iPads, real estate apps are springing up everywhere. The question is which apps are right for your business?

What’s new at your local app store that you may have missed? Here is a list of apps that you may want to consider adding to your smartphone or tablet.

1. No address required
Have you ever been showing property and your buyers asked about the value of a property but you couldn’t see the exact address? If so, you’ll love this new iPhone app from HomeSnap. Here’s how it works:

"Using a combination of mobile phone sensors to determine location and orientation as well as MLS and public records data, HomeSnap can tell you everything about a home, including how many square feet it has, number of bedrooms/bathrooms, estimated price, and more. And it can do so even if the house is not on the market."

All you have to do is to take a picture of the property with your iPhone, and the app will generate all this data without you having to go online.

HomeSnap is even more powerful on listing appointments. When the seller asks, "What do you think my home is worth?" respond by saying, "Let’s find out." Next, open the app and walk outside with the seller to take a picture of his home. Have the seller snap the picture, and the app does the rest. Once the app processes the picture, the seller can see the HomeSnap price instantaneously.

One important caveat here: If the HomeSnap does not have a realistic price, avoid using it. You can also cross-reference the price using Zillow or the Chase Bank online evaluation tool as well. The best choice, of course, is the comparable sales data from your local multiple listing service.

2. Real Estate Calc from Skynetric
This app makes calculating mortgage payments as well as the complete amortization and payment balance schedule super simple. The app allows you to compare various types of loans, including how much a loan will have amortized at any time during the payoff period. It also provides the loan balance, interest paid, and the amount of principal reduction.

3. Tap into the investment market
If you’re new to investing or would like to be more knowledgeable in this important area of real estate, MBA Learning Solutions has an educational app that trains you right on your phone. The app costs $9.99 and is designed to provide a "complete professional level business real estate investment course including real estate financing, basic investment concepts, as well as how to interpret and understand the housing economy." They also have an app for business math as well.

4. Real Estate Back of the Envelope and Property Evaluator (Wasatch Digital Media)
Virtually all investment real estate apps are set up for single-family residences. The Real Estate Back of the Envelope app and Wasatch Digital Media’s Property Evaluator are designed to assist investors who are purchasing multifamily or commercial real estate. The app allows you to "calculate property values and pro forma investment returns with only a few inputs."

Important caveat: Some states prohibit real estate licensees from doing pro forma investment calculations unless the agent has a securities license. You can tell a client about an app, but you have to be sure to advise your client that you cannot make any representations as to the amount or type of return a given property may generate.

5. MagicPlan
This is an iPhone 4 and iPad 2 app that measures, draws and publishes an interactive floor plan on the Web, just by taking pictures. Rather than having to pay $100 or more to have a house professionally measured, MagicPlan allows you to do this in minutes, no moving the furniture required. The app is available in five languages and allows you to export the floor plan as a PDF, JPG or in XML.

On the downside, one reviewer noted that the app displayed room sizes in meters rather feet, and another noted that there were issues trying to measure rooms when there was furniture in the corners. The fee for commercial use is $5 per listing; however, MagicPlan has a subscription program for agents who have a large listing inventory.

6. Not quite an app, but way cool
Swivl is a combination of an iPhone app with hardware that allows you to capture your videos hands-free. All you have to do is to set it up and your iPhone will follow your motions in the room. This is an especially powerful app in terms of creating videos for your business. You can use it to do a virtual showing of a house without having someone there to shoot the video for you. Once you are connected to Swivl, it will automatically follow your motions as you move about the room. In addition to the real estate applications, it’s great for recording seminars, classes, or even just catching your children at play.

Which apps are the best? The answer to this question is simple: "The ones you use every day." Several of the apps in today’s column are lots of fun. Explore which ones are best suited for your business.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, “Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success.” Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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