Spotting out-of-state license plates or counting car colors may be fun driving games for kids, but we adults love to play "how much do you think that house costs"?
As a pedestrian wandering the streets of Manhattan I often play this home price game as well. For instance, there's this cute yellow house in my neighborhood I've always been curious about.
All these how-much-is-that-house guessing games end with a fun and functional new free iPhone app called HomeSnap from Sawbuck, a Washington, D.C.-based online real estate broker, which partners with other a variety of brokers around the country.
The app is ridiculously simple. Take a picture of a house or apartment building with your iPhone. Wait for the app to zero in on your location and matches that to the nearest address - it's not really matching a photo with anything (which means you can shoot home photos in the dark). If the app is unsure of which house you took a picture, it gives you a selection to choose from.
Tap on the address, and HomeSnap serves up the estimated price in four categories, indicated by the color of the price tag or band:
- Blue: a price estimate based on tax records and nearby comps (a real estate term, short for "comparables" - properties with similar characteristics in the same value range).
- Green: the current list price of an actively for-sale home.
- Orange: the most recent list price of a home currently under contract.
- Red: the final sale price of a recently sold home.
Tap on the photo and you get more in-depth info - a wider estimated price range, the home type, the number of rooms, the square footage, the property's building and sale history, and a map of the local area. When I took a home snap of my parent's home, I even got information on the aluminum/vinyl siding. In addition, depending on the property, you'll get a nearby school listing.
Perhaps more importantly, you get value scores from SmartZip, which include grades (1-100) in appreciation and cash flow potential.
Other people's houses
There's no need to go driving or walking around snapping photos of houses to play this pricing parlor game. HomeSnap users can choose to share home photos they snap in a sharing Stream, all easily accessed from the Stream option on the bottom row of app options. Or, you can choose to turn of Sharing in the settings.
As of this writing, the Stream photos are presented in reverse chronological order. By the time you read this, a new version should be available that will enable you to search for streamed photos in the county's top 30 metropolitan areas.
Just tap on a photo in the Stream and get the same pricing, property and value data on the miscellaneous homes other HomeSnap users have snapped. You may even encounter a home that's in contract.
All the homes you snap are stored in your history, but you can mark homes you snap and even those in the stream as Favorites to more easily locate later.
If you spot a house you think someone else may be interested in, you can share it via Facebook, Twitter, text of email.
Try to shoot desired homes without people in front of it - you won't be able to share them. The app flags photos featuring folks for fear of invading privacy. Users can flag any photo they've snapped that has gone into the Stream to remove it for whatever reason, or you can report a Stream photo to the HomeSnap people for removal for whatever reason by simply pressing and holding on a house photo.
Are you in the market?
If you find a home with a green tag (or a green band across the top left corner of a photo in the stream), it means the home is for sale. As a result, you can get far more extensive information - more property and interior photos, longer descriptions as you'd find in any listing concerning interiors, condition, exterior feature (e.g. a garage), utilities, etc., and a listing history including how long the home has been on the market.
You also can turn on an email alert to follow price changes, contract or sale.
And of course you get the agent listing. According to the app's developers:
HomeSnap/Sawbuck provides the ability for a user to arrange a private home tour with an expert local agent. Sawbuck earns an industry-standard referral fee equal to 30 percent of the commission our partner agent receives for closing a successful real estate transaction with one of our referrals.
This ability to see a home for sale depends on Sawbuck's relationship with the listing agent. Some green tagged Stream home snaps listed only the agent's name and the agency - no contact phone, snail mail or email. (The legal caveat in the app says the information is being provided only for a visitor's personal, non-commercial use.)
But homes being sold by Sawbuck listing partners include a "Go See This Home" link, which provides "Call a Sawbuck Advisor" and "Schedule a Visit" options, along with extensive information on and links to contact the agent. I did not test these functions, either, for the same reasons.
Perhaps the email alert would give you a lead, but since I didn't want to be harassed by an eager real estate agent I opted not to test this function out.
One HomeSnap drawback I've found concerns apartments. I snapped a photo of my particular Manhattan rabbit warren and got an apartment value - but the app didn't differentiate between apartments such as number of bedrooms and baths, floor and view, unique criteria vital for dtermining the value of an apartment in New York City or any major city. I didn't even get an indication of whether the HomeSnap price was based on a one- or two-bedroom apartment.
I'm told the company is developing added multi-tenant building functionality, as well as iPad-specific and Android versions, all due early next year.
But for most users, the iPhone HomeSnap app is a great way to satisfy your home price fantasy curiosity.