Real estate apps have become an increasingly popular method for homebuyers to begin their search. According to the National Association of Realtors, 44% of homebuyers in 2018 looked online for properties as the initial step in the process. And 76% of all buyers found their home on a mobile device.
Real estate apps not only provide the convenience of being able to search through listings with different criteria from the comfort of your couch, but they also allow homebuyers to become self-educated about the costs of different neighborhoods or amenities before ever meeting with a real estate agent. However, these sites have their limits. While they seem to improve efficiency, they can often end up causing more frustration.
4 times real estate apps do more harm than good
The listings aren’t always accurate
Once you’ve determined how much house you can afford, the fun part ensues; scoping out your dream home. Real estate apps allow you to explore by neighborhood, set a maximum price, and filter by various features and amenities. But the information you see on these sites isn’t always accurate; you might think you’ve found the perfect condo, but it could have already sold.
While realtors have access to a centralized database in which listings are updated in real time, some sites rely on uploads from agents or home sellers for their information. Since things can move quickly in real estate, you may see listings that appear to be available but are actually off the market. Or, you might end up reading outdated information about the property that’s no longer accurate.
If you want the most up-to-date information you can access on your own, make sure the websites you’re viewing have access to the multiple listing service, a comprehensive database of home listings throughout the country.
You may end up inundated with unwanted calls
Say you’ve found a property you love and have an idea about how much you’re able to put down upfront, you may feel like you’re ready to learn more about the home. But beware — one of the ways that real estate sites make money is through lead generation. Most of the popular apps offer paid leads to real estate agents. When you submit your interest or ask a question about a property on one of these sites, your personal information is distributed to real estate agents paying for leads in your area. Therefore, you could get calls from multiple agents working in your area that are hoping to attract new clients.
If you’re just curious to see what’s available, avoid submitting any requests for information on these sites. Once you’ve gotten approved by a lender, reach out to a real estate agent directly. You may want to ask friends and family for recommendations, do some research on each agent you’re considering, and interview potential candidates.
They aren’t a replacement for in-person showings
Listings on real estate sites may have virtual tours available, and those can be a convenient way to narrow down your options without trekking all over town. However, when you’re considering purchasing a home, there’s no replacement for an in-person showing. You don’t want to miss out on any of the details.
Sometimes, a virtual showing may be necessary. In the current pandemic, social distancing measures are necessary to keep everyone safe, and you may decide it’s not worth the risk to see a home in-person. Or, you might be moving from out of state and therefore unable to accomplish an in-person visit. In most other cases, however, seeing a home in-person is preferable to an online-only transaction.
If you’re looking to rent, you may get scammed
Found a rental listing that looks too good to be true? It’s probably a phony or hijacked listing. The Federal Trade Commission warns that scammers have been known to post fake listings for properties that don’t exist or to rip off listings from other sites and repost them with the scammer’s contact information. The FTC notes three red flags to look out for when renting on a real estate site:
Requests to wire funds: If a supposed listing agent asks you to wire money for a security deposit, walk away. Even if you’ve signed a contract, it’s dangerous to wire money to someone you don’t know.
Requests for upfront payment: Another sign of a scam is when someone asks you to pay a security deposit or first month’s rent before you’ve signed a lease or even met to view the property. Once you’ve paid, you’ll find that you’re no longer able to reach the scammer.
Claims to be overseas: It’s common for scammers to say they are out of the country and have someone handling the transfer of the keys on their behalf. Don’t wire money to anyone overseas.
If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam, you should report the fraud to your local law enforcement agency and the FTC.
The final word on real estate apps
Real estate apps can be a great way to get a first glimpse into what’s available and how properties are priced in different neighborhoods, but you should avoid using them as a replacement for a real estate agent. Requests for information on these sites can lead to unwanted calls and undue frustration when a home is no longer available. And in most cases, you’ll need someone to show you the home anyway, so it’s best to connect with a real estate agent once you have your finances figured out.