Do you use or instruct your buyers to use real estate apps?

  • No (65%, 26 Votes)
  • Yes (35%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 40

This article offers an argument for agents to make the most of popular real estate apps and websites, rather than rejecting them as usurpers of agent authority.

Real estate listings for all

Real estate apps may give buyers an edge in their search for the perfect home, a recent article in the New York Times reports. Smartphone apps from Zillow, Trulia, and newcomer House Hunter offer average Joes a variety of information on available homes in local markets.

Zillow and Trulia have steadily increased their presence as a platform for property sales in the real estate industry since their introduction some years ago. Zillow offers laymen information on local listings, sales history and specifications on properties, ownership and mortgage amounts, estimated rent and sale prices asked for properties held out for sale, and will even notify users when a specific property has been listed for sale or has been sold. Zillow also has the capacity to calculate down payments and interest rate options.

Like Zillow, Trulia presents residential properties listed for sale throughout the state. In addition to geographical search options, Trulia offers users advanced search options to report results by price, property size, or local amenities.

A new kind of scorecard

Recently, House Hunter has entered the real estate tech scene as a supplement to Zillow and Trulia. Unlike the two older apps, House Hunter’s function is to assist buyers in documenting the features of different houses and later weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each property so buyers can choose the best option.

To accomplish this, users begin by ranking House Hunter’s extensive list of house features according to the importance given them by the buyers. After visiting a house, users evaluate its individual features, using House Hunter, to receive a final score for the property. This app also allows users to store comments and pictures, and email their personal notes to others.

How to stay in the game

If agents are to be viewed as a better source of information than these sites, the agent’s use of comparable sales spreadsheets will have to make a comeback. This is the starfish puzzle in this financial crisis; we do not know which way events will take us [see first tuesday Form 318].

Advice to agents? Don’t fight these apps; make them work to your advantage. Working with them takes less energy, but more talent, than ignoring their existence.

Real estate agents have a responsibility to know the workings of their industry, and the growing use of real estate apps and MLS type websites can no longer be ignored.  No longer is housing information solely in the hands of the local association’s multiple listing service (MLS), despite efforts boards have clearly made since the mid 1990s run-in with two high profile single family residence (SFR) brokers in Los Angeles who sought to do then what Zillow, Trulia and House Hunter have done now.

To stay on top of their profession, agents must know the purpose, use, advantages and disadvantages of popular house-hunting apps. One of the major criticisms lodged against these so-called listing aggregators by listing brokers is that information produced by an app may be incomplete or outdated.

Do your duty

While this may be true, it is the listing agent’s duty to investigate and correct inaccurate information on these sites so buyers are not misled. Frankly, it is embarrassing to find the potential buyer has gone online and knows more about the property than you the listing agent know.

Buying or listing agents must fully disclose all known material facts adversely affecting a property value to comply with their general agency duties owed the public – if they are to avoid charges of negligent representation, or worse. As mandated by California’s Agency Law Disclosure, both the seller’s agent and buyer’s agent have “a duty to disclose all facts known to the Agent materially affecting the value or desirability of the property that are not known to or within the diligent attention and observation to the parties.” Further, they are to do so ASAP, before the buyer’s offer is accepted.

So, ask what apps your buyers are using, and work with them to find information on qualifying properties.

Related articles:

November Article of the Month: Holmes v Summer: dilatory disclosures and the damage done

Liens in excess of price must be disclosed by a listing agent before offer accepted

first tuesday Form 305

Real Estate Practice Sixth Edition, Chapter 7: The agency law


Seller’s agents would likewise do well to check their listed properties presented on third-party sites and see if information is up to date.  Like it or not, these websites receive a lot of traffic, which needs to include listing agents, if for no other reason than the maintenance of accuracy in publicly released information on their listed properties. That traffic translates into potential buyers for those listed properties, exactly what the seller-client employed the listing agent to accomplish.

Related article:

Severing ties with listing aggregators

Real estate apps are your friends

These tools benefit not just buyers, but the buyer’s agent as well. House Hunter’s app helps organize buyers’ housing preferences, and paves the way for a better informed communication with their agents. Agents need to encourage buyers with an affinity for technology to use House Hunter’s photography and scoring capabilities to record their impressions of viewed properties.

All this transparency will serve to open up and alter the introspective and cloistered nature of real estate sales transactions that has developed among brokers and agents over the recent decades of massive asset inflation (before the market’s decline, of course).

And remember, technological advances do not obsolete real estate agents and brokers; they simply challenge agents to hone their skills and open up, acting as transaction counselors, to do better than what the buyer using these apps can accomplish alone. Agents who previously were a buyer’s only access to real estate listings needn’t struggle against the ubiquity of publicly available information. More than a tipster, agents know the nuances of the market (if they don’t, they need to study-up) and possess the ability to share their expertise with buyers. They are to guide them through the entire transaction, from locating a home to making an offer and closing escrow. This is a role which cannot be filled by a dumb aggregator.

Thus, information — via apps and aggregators — is a marketing tool. It is there to be used as an advantage, and agents who learn to mentally adjust and use the tools available to them will do better in the long-run and be valuable assets in the more stable real estate market of the future.

Related articles:

Damage control: restoring public trust in real estate professionals

Closing the real estate information gap

Raising the bar of real estate advice