October 3, 2011

∴ Home Search, Simplified

We took a brief driving trip down to Georgia a week or two ago, for our first look at potential retirement destinations. Neither of us is hanging it up any time soon, but we'd like to have a few solid ideas for where we want to live when we do.

I didn't want to waste a real estate agent's time looking at properties, since we weren't buying right away. Instead, we used Google Maps to drive around the neighborhoods surrounding Athens and other communities. It was a hit-or-miss way of finding homes we'd want to live in. Mostly "miss."

About halfway through the trip I stumbled upon a terrific assistant for finding and viewing properties: the iOS app from realtor.com. It comes in a universal version for iPhone and iPad, differing only in layout. Each is tailored for the available display area on each device.

The app uses Google Maps as a foundation. You can set a filter to refine the property search, defining price range, home features, location and open house status. Available properties fitting your filtered requirements appear as a layer on the map. An additional feature called Scout can label each property with its price, and uses the device's GPS chip to array them around your current position. Drive through a community and the properties for sale stream past your moving location. A well-crafted filter setting can eliminate most of the properties from the display, letting you drive directly to the communities and homes that fit your needs.

Tap any property to drill down into its details. Photos, property listing sheet, agent contact information; all the information you'd get from a multiple listing service book is at your fingertips. We used the app on a drive through Charlottesville, Virginia and with judicious use of the filter were able to pare down the available properties from dozens to just the few that fit our wants and needs.

The app is free, and available for iPhone and iPad in the Apple App Store. It'll change how you go about looking for a new home.