NearBuy, a real estate search application for the iPhone, is one of the most popular free real estate apps. But it wasn’t born in a Silicon Valley startup or as a brokerage investment. It began as a class assignment that led to a contest entry by a scrappy team of four college students.

Their NearBuy app for searching for-sale properties has been downloaded about 100,000 times, and a separate search app they developed for rental properties has been downloaded about 75,000 times. One of the team members is now a programmer at Google.

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