The real estate application category on the iPhone really seems to be filling out. When the upgraded version of the software launched in July, Puluwai was the only real estate specific search tool (see 5 Apps Every Real Estate Agent Should Have on Their iPhone).

But that

The real estate application category on the iPhone really seems to be filling out. When the upgraded version of the software launched in July, Puluwai was the only real estate specific search tool (see Five Apps Every Real Estate Agent Should Have on Their iPhone).

But that’s now changing and it looks like there is an epic battle brewing for screen space on my phone.

Trulia iPhone application

Trulia’s app is notable because of the prominence they give to open houses on the home screen. I think this is a wise choice, since people will likely be using this app as they are out and about and will want to find out what’s open near them to go have a look.

The search experience was very easy on Trulia’s app — simply pushing the ‘All homes for sale’ button takes you to a list of all the properties near you. (Your definition of “All Homes” may vary.)

Searching all homes, it was a bit frustrating because it wasn’t immediately obvious how the results were returned — it didn’t seem to be sorted by price or even distance away. Using the Custom Search option does let you get a little more specific on how those results are returned, however.

Personally, I would have loved to be able to refine the search from the All Homes results page to weed out the listings that didn’t fit what I was looking for. Unfortunately, Trulia instead makes you go back to the beginning and start over again.

My biggest disappointment with Trulia’s app is with the listing pages themselves. Next to Utopria’s offerings, they pale in comparison (see Utopria Brings Property Listings to iPhone) Only one photo? Really?

Also, it’s great that you can show me where the property is on a map, but what does staring at a pin from space really tell me? I want a little more.

StreetEasy Real Estate

StreetEasy doesn’t waste any time. The New York-based real estate site just takes you right into the search results as soon as you fire it up. I actually kind of enjoyed this — the fewer decisions I have to make up-front the better. Let me get right to the meat and then let me start carving away.

(Though I have to say, the fact that the top listing it returned on its default search was an $80 million, four-bedroom Central Park apartment made me feel more than a little bit inadequate.)

Clicking on the Edit Search button lets you refine the results and StreetEasy makes good use of the iPhone user-interface elements to make the refinement easy and enjoyable — lots of tumblers to spin up and down. Making search fun is one of the things the iPhone can be great at.

On the whole, StreetEasy succeeds where Trulia fails — showing you all the photos associated with a particular listing. Clicking on the thumbnail floats all the images upwards to a gallery-like environment you can thumb through. I also loved the fact that the app lets you pull up the details on the building that a particular apartment is in.

Further, StreetEasy makes it really easy to tab between the listing description, the map and the agent’s contact information. Trulia struggles to accomplish this with a slightly clumsy pop-up menu.

HomeFinder

HomeFinder was created by developer Brandon Alexander (Alexander Mobile) and claims to bring over 4 million listings to the iPhone. Listings are drawn from Google Base, for-sale-by-owner Web sites and feeds from several large MLSs and brokerages (not identified).

Compared to the two previous offerings it’s pretty barebones, yet functional. HomeFinder gives you loads of options to filter a search, but it also kept crashing whenever it returned the results. So I’m going to have to withhold judgment on this app until we see a new revision.

So what’s the verdict?

StreetEasy’s iPhone app blows the competition out of the water in terms of ease of use, functionality and sheer slickness. Unfortunately it’s only available in New York City.

Trulia’s app looks great, gets off to a good start and then falls flat on its face. Frankly, it’s disappointing and hopefully future versions will add some of the missing features.

The others (Puluwai and HomeFinder) … well, compared to their commercial competitors, they feel unpolished and struggle due to poor data sources.

So for now, there’s no clear winner. Unless you live in New York.

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