Property searching on the go - a review of mobile apps

by Alistair Helm in ,


Realestate.co.nz Trade Me Property smartphone apps.png

The evolution of the web has undoubtedly transformed property searching over the past decade; however the emergence of smartphones and the associated vast array of mobile computing devices just 5 years ago is set to transform property searching at a much faster rate. Already most property website operators report close to half of all engagements with their listings are from mobile devices and is rising everyday.

Mobile searching is intuitive. As we all know the only really effective way to assess property is to get out there in the car and walk around; sure the web is a great starting point but what you really want to do is capture your hit-list of property options and carry them with you, as you drive around, that is what the mobile device is designed for.

Checking out the Apple app store or Google Play Store for Android offers up a number of property apps for NZ and a vast array of others for overseas markets. For NZ there are a few small operators who have taken advantage of the open API (access to the raw database) from Trade Me and produced mapping solution. Sadly these under a variety of names are best steered clear of, as they lack the functionality of the only two which are worth considering – Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz.

However before reviewing these two I would like to mention an app from the ASB that is so close to being great, but sadly misses the mark. The Property Guide uses the data feed from Trade Me to create rich content of listings, to this is added the QV data of legal description and government valuation for every property on the market. This is the only app that offers this valuable data and is the only single source of this data freely available on the web. The app though fails on almost every other criteria. The listings are often out of date. There are no contact details of the agents listing the property and so on. Maybe the app will improve, time will tell.

Trade Me and Realestate.co.nz are the trusted apps as they are the trusted property websites; their respective apps have been downloaded over 100,000 times and really hold the greatest value interest to buyers and investors.

Realestate.co.nz was first to launch an app for the iPhone in late 2010, Trade Me followed mid last year with its dedicated property app for the iPhone and iPad. Those with Android devices really only have the option of the Realestate.co.nz app at this time.

So which is better and what are the most valuable features on these apps that can save you time or improve your buying process? I have evaluated the two apps on these 3 criteria of (i) content (ii) ease of use and (iii) storing & sharing data.

Content is critical and both apps present as close to the full complement of listings on the market. Trade Me has the edge when it comes to property for sale as it features private sales as well as agent listings. When it comes to rental property Trade Me dominates with more than twice as many listings. However the important thing to note is that listings presented on map view comprise only those properties for which the agent has supplied an accurate address – no address, no pin on the map! At this time around 1 in 5 properties on the market do not have an accurate address. Given this issue is common to both apps, no advantage can be gained by either company.

Free Realestate.co.nz iPhone App - Realestate.co.nz-1-1.png

Ease of Use is vital for mobile devices given the smaller screen and lack of a mouse. Getting to relevant data fast is so important with as few a number of taps or swipes the better. In this regard Realestate.co.nz app scores highly. From the home screen one tap takes you to property “Near Me” showcasing property for sale within a 1km radius. This focuses the app entirely around the GPS capability inherent in the device and presents content in a map view as the default.

Trade Me on the other hand opt to default to a list view as per the website, and sadly lacks a “Near Me” option thereby requiring 3 taps to get to a map based view of property around you.

Both apps showcase individual properties equally well with full screen swipe gallery view.

Realestate app with open homes and new listings.png

An advantage again for the Realestate.co.nz app is that on the map view open homes are displayed with a distinctive blue flag separate from the red pin for property location. Additionally all new listings for the week are shown by a distinctive red flag, which highlights the newest listings – a very useful way to assess properties. Trade Me simply relies on a red pin for all listings.

Trade me Property Watchlist.png

Storing & sharing property information is at the heart of smart property searching and this would be the most critical aspect I would judge for the smart investor. In this regard Trade Me wins hands down. The app offers synchronization between the website and the app – save to your wishlist on the website and it appears on the app. Sadly Realestate.co.nz app offers local storage of favourites on the app but there is no synchronization between the website and the app. Additionally it is a little frustrating that properties stored as favourites on the app remain that way until deleted even if the property comes off the market – this is annoying as you end up with a lot of surplus data on your mobile device.

Despite this shortcoming the Realestate.co.nz app does have a useful feature called “Inspection” which is a notepad capability linked to each property. It allows for notes and photos to be kept for each property so when visiting an open home you can collate further information and especially those critical photos not included by the agent on the listing so you can review later on aspects of the property. I would judge this to be a great feature, but somewhat weakened because there is no means of synching this data to your home computer as an integrated file for each property.

Trade Me Property iPad app | Trade Me.png

When it comes to a choice between these two apps I believe that for the serious investor looking to use the app as an effective tool for property searching the Trade Me app is the better choice. I make this judgment purely on the feature of synchronization. I believe this is the single weakness of the Realestate.co.nz app. When you are searching property you want to be carrying with you at all times your portfolio of prospective properties with full information. Your primary search is likely to be in an office environment and you want this process to seamlessly carry across to your mobile device. So for me Trade Me wins for this functionality alone – it is weak as compared to the Realestate.co.nz app in many other aspects and I hope that they address this or maybe Realestate.co.nz app could hurry up and release a modification with synchronization.

This article is also published in the March edition of NZ Property Investor Magazine