What is the best home search app? Well, since every application on the market just pulls the SAME DATA from the MLS, I'd say that it's really a matter of your design preference and subjective taste. Here are my thoughts on two of the major players.
Which home search app is the best?
Technology has had far-reaching effects on real estate as an industry. Before we had quantum leaps in home searching like Zillow, Redfin,Trulia, Realtor.com, and brokerage websites, realtors had a more basic approach to getting information about properties out to each other.
Word of mouth.
As a digital marketer myself, I have seen that the phrase“word of mouth” can often invite chuckles and cringe. In a world where information is so readily available to us, people tend to balk at the idea that“word of mouth” could ever be as effective as the search engine.
Dating as far back as the late 1800’s, real estate agents used to have to regularly meet and share information about their listings. They would cooperate across multiple brokerages and agree to compensate their fellow brokers with a “commission” for helping them procure a buyer for their seller.
This coalition of real estate agents and brokerages was the first “multiple listing service.” In essence, this is what laid the groundwork for our modern-day MLS (multiple listing service).
Fast forwarding through the highlights of a busy 20th century...
...and Boom 💣! We are in the year 2020 (I might have skipped a few things).
Since the early 2000’s we have operated with our listings all existing in a digital environment. Here in Washington, we predominately use the NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service).
The NWMLS acts as a central host for listings submitted by real estate agents from ALL brokerages across the state. It is the one single source of truth, and it’s also where powerful tech companies like Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, and others get their data from.
To put it one way, the MLS gets listings first because the MLS was THERE first. In fact, it’s only due to a licensing agreement between the MLS and other home search platforms that they are even able to share their data at all.
Nowadays, most buyers are more comfortable and happy searching for their homes through their favorite smartphone app. And for good reason… I’ve used them myself, and they admittedly have a much cleaner presentation than the MLS’ own “portal.”
Not to mention, the MLS has always struggled with mobile-friendliness, which is basically mandatory these days.
For now, the MLS has agreed to cooperate with these companies in providing them with listing data. Thus, driving people further and further away from the MLS.
With tech companies like Redfin successfully transitioning into being their own brokerage, it makes you wonder what the future of this relationship will really look like.
However, without getting into theory and waxing philosophical on the MLS, here are some of my thoughts on the best apps for searching for homes.
Bear in mind, these are entirely subjective to my own tastes, and I am simply using the platform the same way that my clients are. I don't get any special privileges on any of these apps, beyond being a Zillow Premier Agent (which I am).
Zillow is, in my opinion, pushing the hardest of any of the players out there in the market place. They’re making a lot of cash in selling advertising to realtors like me, and it all goes back into product development.
In fact, there are many who speculate that Zillow is taking steps to become their own listing agency just like Redfin. They’re already testing this out with their rental marketplace… so don’t be surprised if it happens.
The BLUE branding of Zillow is pretty noteworthy, and characteristic of many other real estate brokerages out there. Blue is a color that, in color psychology, is meant to “inspire trust.”
Big real estate brokerages like Coldwell Banker and Windermere (my own brokerage!) have adopted this color, so one could argue that Zillow is learning from the existing masters.
Being that all of the data is the same in these different apps, I’m mainly looking at them from a UX (user-experience) and design standpoint.
Zillow’s design has always come across as slightly cluttered to me. Their choice of fonts, use of bold text, and generally “cramped” sense of things ends up creating a “squished” sensation for me.
It seems like Zillow prioritizes showing off the Zestimate more-so than other companies show off their own valuations. But if you’re a first-time home buyer, this may not really be prudent to you.
It can be helpful in seeing how fairly the property has been priced, but also understand that the Zestimate gets re-analyzed the moment the property lists on the market.
For example, if Zillow valued your home at $650k and you have it listed it at $630k, don’t be surprised if you notice the Zestimate fall.
Zillow isn’t all-knowing, so they’re relying on your data points as an indication of where to value the property at.
The notification settings on Zillow are customizable, but I feel like teeter a bit on the aggressive side. This is typical of nearly every company that wants you to engage with their app… but Zillow’s seems to hit with a lot more superfluous notifications.
Data-wise, they get their information JUST behind Redfin from the MLS.. Zillow can have up to an hour delay, while Redfin usually getsits information within 15-30 minutes tops.
Zillow takes second place as compared to my favorite application…
A self-admitted minimalist at heart, I really appreciate what Redfin does with their application design.
Redfin makes amazing use of white space, has a fast server configuration that generally loads much faster on mobile, and a clean app design that allows you to customize all of your notifications.
Above all else, they keep the focus on the one thing that matters – the home’s photos. Photos make the first impression, and burying the user with lots of text doesn’t do much for making a great one.
With Redfin’s configuration, you generally get to see the basics of what you’re looking for, with the OPTION to do a deeper dive into the more intensive stuff.
As an active home searcher and realtor myself… I am using a combination of the NWMLS and Redfin. The NWMLS gives me a ROBUST suite of search parameters that no other platform can offer right now. I can get deep,man.
You want a home with...
That’s where the MLS comes in ;) And also where I can help you with your home search.
From there, when we want to fire listings off to each other easily back & forth, we can share them over email or iMessage (or SMS, if you're an android user!) with a convenient Redfin link.
The MLS’ portal can be a little cumbersome to get in and out of on your smartphone, so I often find that my clients prefer sending a link toeither Zillow or Redfin.
As a professional, I just thought it might be helpful for you to hear some thoughts I have on the industry’s changing technologies and how we wield them.
There is a perception out there that real estate agents don't want to “get with the times” and that we dig our heels in at changing technologies… however, in my experience, there are many of us that welcome such changes with open arms as it makes for a much smoother client experience 😊
All of the apps pull the same data in from the MLS, so it's just a matter of preference what you like! I can easily work with any configuration that is best for you.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed my personal thoughts on all of this. I’ll be keeping more thoughts coming out as the year ticks on. I hope that you’re all doing well. And remember to keep me in mind if you need help answering a tricky real estate question, or if you need help buying or selling home.
Have a great day!