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Blog by Kevin Wong

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Home-Buying Help In Your Pocket

Mobile apps can be used for just about anything these days. From remotely starting a car to filming and editing entire feature-length films using a smartphone, there are even apps out there to help buy, sell or renovate a home.

With spring officially arriving on Monday, the busiest time of year for the real estate industry is now here. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the majority of deals to buy or sell a home will occur in the next few months. To help buyers and sellers stay on top of their own efforts without having to stay on top of their home computer, Financial Post technology reporter Jameson Berkow found some of the more useful real estate apps for Canadian househunters.

REAL ESTATE DICTIONARY

Hypothecate is when someone offers their property as collateral when taking on a debt, such as a mortgage, but the average person would never know that. Particularly useful for those looking to buy or sell a home without using a real estate agent, there are a number of dictionary apps available on every smartphone platform to help users make sense of all the industry jargon. The Glossary of Real Estate Terms, complete with 700 key definitions, is available for the Google Android platform at a cost of $2 and the Dictionary of Real Estate Terms is available on the Apple iOS platform also for about $2. Anyone who has ever been confounded by the term "estoppel" will find one of these apps to be well worth the price.

REALTOR.CA

The official mobile app of the Canadian Real Estate Association, this free app gives users access to an average of 350,000 Canadian properties for sale on the Realtor.ca website. Using a smartphone's built-in GPS feature, the app lets users search for houses available near their current location or a specific address, providing them with photos, listing details and contact information to get in touch with the agent. It launched on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone 7 platform last November and a version compatible with Apple Inc.'s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices was released in late December; with other versions for Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry OS and Google Inc.'s Android expected in the next few months. More than 100,000 people have already downloaded this well-designed app.

ZOOCASA

This free app, currently available only on the iPhone platform, is similar to Realtor.ca but even more intuitive. For those Apple device users who don't mind using something other than the "official" industry app, Zoocasa will also let users search for properties based on their current location, even displaying full descriptions of properties that would appear on the Zoocasa website. There is also a unique social function built in, allowing users to email listings from directly within the app.

MOVETOOLS

Once the deal has been made and the title transferred, the physical labour can begin. That is where the new MoveTools app specifically designed for the Apple iPad tablet, released by insurance provider State Farm in early March, definitely comes in handy. Users can use this app to customize a weekly moving checklist. Waiting to pack the printer last would also be a good idea, as this app also lets users create and print "smart labels" with digital QR codes, which can be read by any smartphone with a barcode scanning application to display what each smart-labelled box contains.

DREAM HOME

Even after the buying and the physical moving is done, a new home still needs to be adapted -either through major renovations or minor redecorations -to suit the new owner's unique tastes. The Dream Home app for iPhone, as well as the Dream Home HD app for the iPad, brings an element of fun to the process. Users can snap photos with their device's camera and share them with other users of this $5 app to gain inspiration for their new dwelling. With content arranged by room type, colour and style and new content added regularly, users can find the new style to match their new abode.

PROPERTY GUYS.COM

Anyone interested in selling their home without using a real estate agent will find this free app valuable. The PropertyGuys.com website charges a set fee, as opposed to the percentage-based commissions charged by accredited agents, to let independent home sellers create a professional-quality listing for their property online. Owners of an Apple or BlackBerry mobile device can then search through the listings, also based on their current location or a specific address, and contact the seller directly with a single touch. Even those without a smartphone can use PropertyGuys.com's mobile service by sending an SMS message to PRICE (77423) that includes the sign number for any listed property.