America — really, the world — has an app obsession. The days when it was a clever, nonobvious statement to declare that "there’s an app for that" are long gone. These days, there are dozens of apps for nearly every daily task, industry and part of life. These situation-specific software programs now help us do everything from losing weight to saving money to tracking our babies’ feeding schedules.
And real estate, of course, is no exception. There are brilliant, beautiful apps out there for most of the basic real estate events and functions, from mortgage calculator apps, to property-finding apps to apps that help you calculate the sun a given room will get or find a paint color to match that beautiful eggplant in a home’s garden.
That said, part of what’s fun about the app explosion is when you stumble across an app that you would never even have thought possible, one that perfectly fits a need you have, but couldn’t even have articulated, because you didn’t think it possible for something to solve. In that vein, here are a few fantasy real estate apps — in my idea of a perfect world, there’d be apps, gadgetry and software to do the following things:
1. Real estate reality-check goggles. You might have heard about the Google Goggles currently in development, which the New York Times described as "eyeglasses that will project information, entertainment and, this being a Google product, advertisements onto the lenses." These glasses fall into the bucket of apps known as "augmented reality." In real estate, though, the issue is not that reality needs augmenting, it’s that both buyers and sellers need a reality check!
The reality check app would be a plug-in for the Google Goggles that would allow sellers to see their own homes through the eyes of prospective buyers, before listing it, so they could prepare, stage and price the property in a way that optimized its chances for sale. And it would enable buyers to view homes with projections reflecting what the sellers were thinking when they priced a home — everything from the comparable sales data to the outstanding mortgage balance to the sweet memories of the lives they lived there.
2. "Bad Neighbor Detector." The worst sort of move-in surprise is the one you get when you buy a home you viewed on a serene Saturday morning, only to realize that the neighbors live a "vibrant" (read: noisy) night life, their dog has an incontinence problem that seems to flare up only on and around your newspaper, and their hobbies include backyard mixed martial arts-style cage matches.
The Bad Neighbor Detector app would surface this information on your very first visit to a listing. Simply aim your phone along the lot lines shared with a neighboring property, and the app will make a distinctive alert tone when the neighbor is shenanigan-prone. Switch to Neighbor View mode after receiving a Bad Neighbor alert, and the app will preview the particular bad behaviors you can expect of these neighbors, pulling in everything from past police reports to Neighborhood Watch meeting minutes to satellite data of cars on lawns in the not-so-distant past.
The companion Neighbor Cam can be left in the property to monitor potentially bad neighbors for the duration of your contingency period, giving you the sort of what-to-expect disclosure that every buyer wishes she had before pulling the trigger.
3. To fix or not to fix. Inspection reports can be difficult to read; sometimes items listed as health and safety hazards are $5 do-it-yourself fixes, and other times, statements that seem like generalized cautionary boilerplate can actually belie much deeper, much more costly issues. To boot, what seems like a simple fix to one homebuyer might be entirely beyond the resources of another, financially and otherwise.
This app would assess your tolerance and aptitude for the costs and work involved in home repairs. Then, when you viewed various properties or get into escrow, the app would automatically evaluate the inspection reports for each property, giving you an easy-to-read GREEN or RED recommendation about whether the home is a go (or a no!) in terms of the repairs it needs, vis-à-vis the repairs you are equipped to do.
Red lights would be accompanied by recommendations for negotiation points you could try to get the seller to accept, which would make the property more suitable for your home repair budget and skill level.
4. Live like the stars. Love celebrity homes? This app would serve you up local listings in your price range that share the style or compelling features of your favorite celebrity homes.
What’s your dream real estate app?
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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