We all have to look for a house from time to time, and when Gadgets 360 team members go house-hunting, it's predictably a technology driven search. Searching for a house for sale or rent using online platforms is a lot better than relying on brokers, who are looking to maximise their commissions, and rarely listen to understand what you're looking for from your house.
The problem is that with so many real estate websites and property apps to look at, how do you even get started? In our own search for a house for rent, things began with Google - searching for apartments generated a lot of leads, from different platforms including apartment message-boards. The message-boards actually a very useful resource - many people like to list on these internal boards to keep the apartment among "known" people, and they get fewer applicants as a result, increasing your chances.
With some research on the listings, and looking at what apps were popular, we came to a shortlist of six different platforms. After two weekends of searching, and around 30 house visits, our hunt continues, but here are some useful observations on each of the apps we tried that might help you land your dream home.
As the name promises, you will see houses listed by their owners, so you aren't stuck paying a huge brokerage fee, and the company says that it verifies all the owners. There is a checklist for the owners to follow, to ensure that all the listings contain enough information to be useful. In terms of listings and details, NoBroker does a great job. It's not as well known however, which is why it sometimes felt like it had fewer listings than the others.
The app itself is good looking, and apart from rentals, also includes purchasing houses, hostels, and flatmates. You can quickly set up the basic filters, and the results are easy to browse. There's also a map view that lets you see where everything actually is.
One area where it could be better is its recommendations - NoBroker sends recommendations of flats and despite our search being in Bengaluru, it thought it would be a good idea to pop up a flat in Thane. It also sent recommendations in areas that were around 10km away from the localities we had been searching in, which is far from ideal.
Within Bengaluru at least, in our experience CommonFloor had the biggest set of listings. That's a huge plus and the most important part of looking for a house. It defaults to show you owner and broker listings, so you've got one extra step to see listings without agents. The various filters are easy to set up, and a simple toggle on top lets you switch between buying and renting.
If you're looking for a PG or for flatmates, CommonFloor won't help, but for a family looking for a home to move into, it's solid. The map view is smooth and continues to search as you scroll. CommonFloor also has a large number of 3D tours of properties, which can help cut down the number of site visits. Most of the companies are now starting to do this, but it appears that CommonFloor has a good collection already, at least in Bengaluru.
There are some issues though. For one, it keeps trying to enable your Wi-Fi which feels intrusive. Secondly, when you want to contact a homeowner, you sometimes have to re-enter your phone number even after signing in. Many of the homeowners also made mistakes on their CommonFloor listings - for example, the date of possession, or the amount of deposit were often wrong.
Also worth pointing out is that CommonFloor as a platform is extremely spammy - you will get a lot of notifications by mail and SMS, which can be useful, but if you're on the app, it would be better if that could all just be contained within it instead.
Housing.com only recently reintroduced its rentals feature, which had been shut down in 2015, with a claimed 60,000 verified listings. The number of listings is definitely lower than the competition. What we liked was how smoothly the map view worked and the fact that every listing had a large number of photos - some of the listings on the other sites had only tiny thumbnail images, which Housing.com manages to avoid, at least amongst the listings we saw.
On the other hand, the website itself is a little difficult to navigate. The app does not support rentals yet - we were running the latest version of the Android app at the time of writing, and it only had homes to buy - but if you're looking for a house, checking out Housing.com isn't a bad idea. You'll be able to get a good look at the houses before you decide to visit, and all the details you need to know are also available. Setting up the filters and actually searching is also very simple - the only problem comes with the results themselves looking cluttered, and ending up looking a little confusing.
The oldest company on our list, 99acres has a great number of listings and you're literally one tap away from searching in your general area, which is very handy if you're already out house hunting and pull out the app. It also has a filter called listing quality, which lets you limit the results to houses with photos, or videos, or only properties that 99acres has physically verified.
That's great and can save you a lot of time. While the website feels very outdated at this point, the app is quick, fast, and good looking. In terms of listings, we found a lot to choose from, though we wish 99acres would add a sort by distance option, along with the price and date options.
You don't have fine grained control over the price slider in the app, so you can search for 25,000, or 30,000, or 40,000, for example. This can be tricky if your budget falls in between a set of bounds. Map mode on the app also works, but it isn't as detailed as the others we tried, and doesn't load the listings as quickly. If you're using 99acres, stick to the list mode, it has all the information you need anyway.
Although this was actually our favourite app to use, it features lower on the list than the others because (for our search at least) it returned the fewest number of leads. That said, things could be different in your area and with your filters, so we'd recommend you try it out.
Makaan comes with a chat interface - you can also tap buttons in the chat-bubble to use it like a GUI, and it has a great looking interface once you have carried out a search. You can add more filters, and everything is very easy to understand.
Map view does not search while you scroll so it's only useful to quickly see where the houses are - but once that's done, you can log-in, create a shortlist, and plan property visits all inside the app. You will still get SMS notifications as well, though it isn't as bad as CommonFloor. However, the biggest problem is the the number of listings we found (excluding broker listings) were a third of what we'd see on CommonFloor or 99acres.
Nestoria isn't like the other apps on this list, in that it doesn't aggregate listings directly. Instead, it's an aggregator for aggregators, so a search on Nestoria can turn up results from Housing.com, Makaan, NoBroker, Commonfloor, and 99acres (among others).
The app and website are both very basic and if you see something you like and tap on it in the app, or click on it on the site, you'll be redirected to the website of the platform that actually has the listing. It's a slightly clunky two-step process, but you can apply a lot of filters right at the start, to save time searching across different sites.
With Nestoria, we'd actually recommend the website over the mobile app - it shows a little more information on Nestoria itself so you won't find yourself clicking out as often. That said, on the app the pages are loaded on an internal browser so you're not jumping between apps, and the experience is reasonable. The real plus point is quickly getting a start on your search, and Nestoria does deliver on that front.
These are our six top picks for house-hunting apps, along with their various pros and cons. Have you used any of these when looking for a house? Tell us what your thoughts are, via the comments.