A compendium of recently introduced apps, sites and tech tricks of the real estate biz:
1. If you’re shopping for a new neighborhood, a new Web site calculates the likely transportation costs of the people who live there. The Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago nonprofit, recently rolled out Abogo, which claims to calculate average monthly costs for both public-transit use and car ownership, including insurance and car payments.
Abogo’s calculator factors in average commute times, job density, transit connectivity, and household income. Type in an address at abogo.cnt.org and the device also will offer an estimate of carbon dioxide emissions related to transportation in the area.
2. Could the house-hunting process be likened to online dating? A New York startup, homingCloud.com, is taking a stab at it, calling itself a "real estate social networking site."
The for-sale-by-owner site claims to use an "intelligent matching algorithm" that pairs up buyers and sellers whose parameters align, the company said. "Matchees" can converse with one another online.
The site, however, is still in its infancy, and searches for properties in numerous major cities came up blank. Participation in homingCloud is currently free, but founder Tina Fine said eventually users may pay $5 to $10 per post.
3. Many families dream of finding a vacation home rental in a desirable getaway locale and using it as an excuse to bring together far-flung relatives or friends for a mini-reunion. The reality is, however, that getting a crowd that may be spread all over the continent to agree on a single home — location, size, price, amenities — might be akin to negotiating international peace talks.
There’s an app for that: HomeAway.com, a major vacation-rental site, recently introduced a free iPhone application that aims to simplify the planning for group trips by allowing friends and family to share candidate properties via e-mail or Facebook.
The app also allows users to search the company’s 230,000 vacation-rental properties for something as specific as, say, "Fort Myers, pet-friendly, with pool, outdoor grill," etc.
4. The ruins of the San Bruno, Calif., neighborhood were gruesomely vivid in news broadcasts: 37 homes were destroyed and eight people killed when a gas main exploded in September.
The blast also touched off a sizable Internet search by citizens who suddenly wanted to know where their homes were in relation to their communities’ gas pipelines, according to media reports in the aftermath of the explosion.
The National Pipeline Mapping System, a product of the federal Department of Transportation and other governmental agencies, is an effort to do that. It publishes online maps of gas pipelines that can be searched by state and county at npms.phmsa.dot.gov.
Homeowners who are trying to ascertain whether a pipeline goes right down their street, however, won’t get quite that clear a picture; national security concerns rule out posting extremely specific pipeline-location information.
5. Most home sellers want their properties listed in their local multiple listing services because they figure that would give a house its biggest exposure to other agents, who could bring them a buyer.
But not every seller wants the world to know their home is for sale — their reasons may be rooted in privacy concerns, such as not wanting to be the object of neighborhood gossip; or they may desire strict control over who, exactly, walks through their door.
Or they might be vaguely interested in selling at the right price, but aren’t interested in an active marketing campaign.
In the real estate world this is known as a "pocket listing" — the seller works with an agent, but the house isn’t posted online or otherwise marketed, except perhaps by word of mouth to other agents within a brokerage or to trusted colleagues.
Now there’s an online community for just such low-key efforts; Pocketlistings.net is a searchable site for real estate agents to post their not-for-prime-time listings. The site posts information on a given pocket-listing home (though not necessarily photos, depending on the seller’s preferences), and interested buyers must contact the seller’s the real estate agent to get the address of the property and make showing appointments. Only agents can post listings, and the site says it checks to make sure the person claiming to be the agent possesses a real estate license.