Buying a home is no small task; conventional wisdom suggests hiring a realtor is well worth the investment. While an app cannot replace the expertise provided by a realtor, technology can play an important role by helping prospective buyers educate themselves and enter the process ready to engage.
The Mortgage Calculator App by Quicken Loans is a great place to start. The app allows potential homebuyers to calculate how much house they can afford as well as determine what a monthly payment will look like. Though the app exists to connect users with potential loan companies, consumers have no obligation to utilize that feature. The financial tools provided can go a long way to helping buyers develop an understanding of realistic price ranges and the long-term financial implications of various loan options. For its home affordability calculator alone, this app is worth the download. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
Karl’s Mortgage Calculator is a must for savvy buyers. This handy tool loads quickly and requires no account set-up. The home screen invites users to fill in variables such as property value, down payment, interest rate and length of loan, then produces a monthly payment. Prospective homebuyers can also incorporate taxes, potential HOA fees and insurance to get a highly accurate monthly total. Results may be viewed as a table, graph, chart or overall summary. The app garners rave reviews from users and provides complicated information in an easy-to-understand format. The app’s creator, Dr. Karl Jeacle, responds quickly to user feedback. For clear results and ease of use, Karl’s Mortgage Calculator is in a class of its own. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
With a price range established, home availability is the next hurdle. A plethora of popular apps all feature homes for sale. Browsing Zillow, Redfin, Trulia and Realtor is a guilty pleasure for plenty of curious people who are not actually looking for a new home. Among the top apps, Realtor gets the highest marks for user interface; it is the most effective and easiest to navigate while driving around on a weekend afternoon checking out open houses—i.e., for those actively looking for a new home. (All are free and available for iOS and Android.)
While these well-known apps are an excellent resource to help homebuyers get a sense of available properties, one lesser-known option is Homesnap. In addition to all of the house data and photos offered by leading real estate apps, Homesnap lets users take a photo of a house and access all the home’s information while out and about. The app has a “search by commute” feature, which is especially helpful for anyone relocating to a new area. Homesnap also offers an in-app messaging feature, useful for couples chatting about a particular property with each other or with their realtors. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
Many homebuyers find themselves faced with the prospect of a ‘fixer-upper.’ Though not quite on par with hiring Chip and JoJo—stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper series—as personal consultants, home renovation and design apps offer consumers both inspiration and practical information.
As a starting point, most spaces look better with a fresh coat of paint. The Paint Tester app by Luminant Software allows users to take a photo of a room, then try out various paint colors to preview the effect. Users can choose colors from the app’s color palate or bring home color swatches from the local hardware store, tape them to the wall, and then test out actual options within the app. Paint Tester is a fantastic resource that takes much of the guesswork out of selecting paint colors. For those partial to a particular brand, Valspar, Behr, Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams all have free apps that function in a similar way to Paint Tester, featuring each company’s particular color options. (Free; available for iOS and Android)
For more complex projects, renovation calculator apps are a must. On Android devices, the Handyman Calculator helps users create reasonable estimates for quantity and cost of materials for tasks such as adding on a garage, building a deck or putting in a brick patio. (Free; available for Android). For Apple users, the Construction Calculator app offers similar functionality, allowing individuals to determine the quantity and expense of materials needed before deciding whether a renovation project is doable. (Free; available for iOS)
Though purchasing a home can be daunting, being prepared helps ease anxiety. Knowing your personal financial parameters, being aware of what homes are available in your price range and understanding potential renovation costs can ensure that the experience is positive. Technology cannot solve every problem, but homebuying apps can help anyone become an informed consumer ready to find the perfect home.