Apps on the map

TRD gets out its smartphone and reviews five residential real estate mobile applications

These days, there are mobile applications for everything from finding pay phones to proposing marriage. So it should come as no surprise that a bevy of apps exist to let home-hunters browse property listings on the go. After all, is there a better place to look up details on a Soho rental than from the cobblestoned streets of the neighborhood itself?

But not all apps are created equal. This month, TRD tested out five free mobile apps aimed at New York City renters and buyers.

We started with ones offered by three local brokerages: the Corcoran Group, Citi Habitats and Sotheby’s International Realty — the only major New York City firms that have them. (All three firms are owned by the real estate conglomerate NRT, with the exception of some Sotheby’s franchises.) We also looked at two listings aggregators: Seattle-headquartered Zillow and the New York–based StreetEasy.

All of these apps can be downloaded through Apple’s App Store, while some can be downloaded for BlackBerrys through BlackBerry App World, or for smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system through Google Play.


Citi Habitats

Available at: Apple App Store

Description: The Citi Habitats app allows users to find properties near their current location through GPS technology. Other highlights of the rental giant’s app include an easy-to-use search function with criteria such as price, number of bedrooms and location; a “Featured Properties” section; a mortgage calculator; market information; and guides on how to rent and buy in New York City.

Pros: For homeseekers open to living in various parts of the city, this app has a checklist tool that allows for searching in multiple neighborhoods and boroughs at once. Users can also save searches without registering. On listing pages, agent information is prominent (and includes an agent photo); one swipe opens up full-screen property shots.

Cons: The “What’s Near Me” feature — which shows rental and sale listings, restaurants, shopping and nightlife options on Google Maps — returns results from across the city, not in proximity to the user. At the bottom of every listing, a sampling of “Things to Do Near Here” returned the same results for every property: The app repeatedly suggested Japadog in Noho, Fred’s at Barney’s on Madison Avenue and Chorus, a Midtown West karaoke bar.

Handy feature: Rental listings include a “You Could Buy” button that shows properties for sale in a similar price range.



Available at: Apple App Store, Google Play
Description: Not surprisingly, the Corcoran app provides information about the firm’s listings in its three geographical markets: New York City, the Hamptons and South Florida. But it also comes chock-full of Corcoran-related features, such as monthly market reports based on signed contract data. Users can also visit the firm’s Facebook fan page, YouTube channel and Twitter feed without exiting the app.

Pros: The listings are loaded with buttons that link to additional information, such as floor plans, lists of nearby restaurants and retail, Google Maps satellite views and listing pages on Corcoran’s website — all of which is particularly useful for out-of-towners unfamiliar with New York City real estate. They also feature large photos that are easy to scroll through with a swipe.

Cons: The black background, while striking, makes it difficult to read the text, some of which is yellow and gray. Notices about new developments, local retail and companies like Foursquare pop up frequently, in some cases obscuring listing information. Search results come up in a seemingly random order, not organized by price or proximity.

Handy feature: Listings with upcoming open houses show up in a separate menu — a convenient tool for homeseekers who plan to check out properties on-the-go.


Sotheby’s International Realty Mobile 

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Available at: Apple App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry App World

Description: The Sotheby’s app is focused on the luxury market, so will be more useful for brokers or homebuyers shopping at the high end. The app, designed by the global real estate behemoth and not the New York City affiliate, brings up listings from Anchorage, Alaska, to Wilson, Wyo. — and all points in between, including New York City. Instead of a downloadable app, the New York City affiliate created a mobile website that is accessed through smartphone browsers. It has the added benefit of updating automatically, among other advantages, a Sotheby’s spokesman said.

Pros: The no-frills interface is easy to navigate. Listings information is presented in an intuitive and clear way, and includes figures on estimated monthly mortgage costs.

Cons: Unlike the other apps on this list, users have to accept the terms of service before using the Sotheby’s app. There is no neighborhood search, so those who do not want to use GPS — such as when a Brooklyn apartment seeker is searching from her Manhattan office — must look up listings by address or zip code. The app turns up relatively few listings, which are sourced from local multiple listing services (which would not apply in New York) and other companies owned by NRT’s parent company, Realogy. For example, a search for rentals in the 10001 zip code — which covers parts of Chelsea, Midtown South and Clinton — yielded no results. Likewise, listings in the outer boroughs were thin: A search for Brooklyn properties turned up homes in Queens.

Handy feature: The advanced search function lets users look up properties by their Multiple Listing Service identification numbers, which is helpful for brokers.


StreetEasy Real Estate

Available at: Apple App Store

Description: For those who frequently use StreetEasy’s website, the mobile experience of the New York City listings provider will feel familiar and is ideal for those independent home hunters keen to research properties sans broker. The app has five tabs, showing sale listings, rental listings, an address search and a “My Stuff” folder.

Pros: The interface is clean and straightforward. StreetEasy’s app pulls listings from numerous firms, so it’s more comprehensive than some of the other apps, at least when it comes to New York properties. It also lets users search by address and building name — a handy tool if an apartment seeker wants to look up property information in situ. Users with StreetEasy accounts can seamlessly transfer information between the app and the website, and saved properties load automatically.

Cons: The search capabilities could be more user-friendly: To find the search function, users must press a confusingly labeled “Edit Search” button in the upper corner of the listings screen. Figuring out how to search by neighborhood or by GPS is a complicated, multistep process. But StreetEasy is in the midst of developing a new app, scheduled to launch in the next two months, which aims to fix some of these problems, said senior developer Zach Halbrecht. The team wants to broaden the GPS search, adding capabilities that will let users create saved searches based on their current location.

Handy feature: Each listing page features a “Listing History,” showing dates when the property came on the market, switched brokers or had a price cut.


Zillow Real Estate

Available at: Apple App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry App World

Description: The most popular real estate app around, Zillow Real Estate feels almost like a streamlined website. There’s even a home page–like opening screen, where users can navigate to a GPS-enabled listing search, mortgage rate information and other items. To access some of the features, though, users must have an account with Zillow.

Pros: Zillow’s app has an exhaustive “Affordability” calculator that lets users input personalized information — mortgage loan terms, property taxes, homeowner association dues and so on — to determine monthly payments for specific properties. The Google Maps interface shows the price of listings, as well as their location, directly on the street grid; one tap calls up additional listing facts. And even though Zillow is a national website, the app features a wealth of New York listings, making it easy to compare prices block-to-block.

Cons: Zillow is dependent on its varied listing sources for property information, producing a range of quality in the listings. For example, some listings lack full addresses, while others have poor-quality photos or lack photos altogether. One listing that appeared on the map in Midtown was actually a property in Bangkok. “We’re a marketing platform for brokerages and for agents,” just like a newspaper, said Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow’s chief marketing officer. It’s up to brokers to provide the best listings possible for their properties, she said.

Handy feature: In addition to providing real-time data on mortgage rates, the app lets users get custom loan rates based on income, credit score, zip code and other criteria.