Real estate technology is proliferating faster than foreclosed houses. Here are five tech tools that can help you find and manage a living space:
1. It’s the original real estate question: rent or buy? There are plenty of online calculators that promise to help you make your decision, based on your own financial circumstance. They’re not all created equal, of course — some of them omit such significant considerations as the costs of property insurance or real estate taxes.
Trulia.com, a real estate for-sale listings site that also recently began listing rentals, has launched its own rent vs. buy calculator. If you’re trying to decide on a city, it also created a Rent vs. Buy Index for 50 major cities. The index compares the costs of buying a two-bedroom condo with the costs of renting one.
The index found 10 cities where it says it’s better to buy than to rent: Minneapolis; Arlington, Texas; Miami; Fresno, Calif.; San Antonio; Mesa, Ariz.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Phoenix; El Paso, Texas; and Las Vegas.
It gave the edge to renters in New York; Omaha; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Oklahoma City; Kansas City, Mo.; San Diego; Cleveland; and Dallas.
2. Hitting the road to look for houses for sale? MapQuest.com recently introduced the MapQuest Route Planner , a free customizable tool for users who are going to be making multiple stops.
Though the site already had a function to help plan multiple stops, the new tool allows users to set it up based on shortest time or shortest distance.
3. If you’re unfamiliar with the term "augmented reality," you’ll probably get the drift with ZipRealty’s free Home Scan app for the iPhone.
Augmented reality, at its simplest, is the overlay of technology onto the real world. How does this play out in a real estate search? HomeScan allows the iPhone user to stand on the sidewalk, point the phone’s camera at a house, and then the user can identify which homes nearby are for sale — and view interior photos and data on square footage and price.
ZipRealty says it has such data for 4,000 cities.
4. "Aging in place" may be nothing more than a nice buzzword if an elderly relative insists on staying in the old homestead when those who love him or her are worried about safety.
BeClose is a wireless home monitoring system that connects caregivers to care receivers. Its sensors placed throughout the home transmit information to BeClose.com, where caregivers can log in to monitor daily activities. The system provides continuous activity reports — still in bed, in the bathroom, whether the doors are unlocked, whether they’ve eaten, etc. Prices start at $299, with a $79 monthly fee.
5. Think you might like to live in an age-restricted community where the residents must be 55 or older? Think you’d hate it?
Del Webb, the homebuilder that helped pioneer the concept of such developments, has launched its online Lifestyle Advisor, a 32-question survey that the company says it developed after interviews with hundreds of buyers and nonbuyers.
The survey solicits answers (from "agree" to "disagree," and points in between) on such statements as: "I like the idea of communities with a mix of ages," and "Moving means I would have to let go of my family and friendships," and "Recreational activities are nearly as important as a house to me."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.