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Housing Bulletin: Four New House-Hunting Aids

Despite the downturn in the housing market, there are still people shopping for homes these days. Here are four new or newly upgraded house-hunting tools to assist them.

• Prudential Preferred Properties provides subscribers with a weekly Preferred Market Watch Report with detailed stats on all properties listed for sale in a particular zip code. (You can sign up for the report here.) The reports include, among other things, the average…

Despite the downturn in the housing market, there are still people shopping for homes these days. Here are four new or newly upgraded house-hunting tools to assist them.

• Prudential Preferred Properties provides subscribers with a weekly Preferred Market Watch Report with detailed stats on all properties listed for sale in a particular zip code. (You can sign up for the report here.) The reports include, among other things, the average list price, the asking price per square foot, and the average time listed properties have been for sale. Each weekly report comes as a 12-page PDF filled with charts, but the overview (on the second page) may be all you really need. 

Home shoppers “want as much information as they can get, and in this market more than ever,” says Patrick Bergner, Prudential’s senior vice president and director of marketing. Subscribers can use the reports to make direct comparisons of how much house they can afford in two or more areas. The stats are also broken out into quartiles—or four price strata in town, from highest to lowest—so that the figures on super-luxe houses don’t obscure what’s going on at the more affordable levels. Those who are watching the stats change from week to week might also see when it’s time to get off the fence and make an offer. (For instance, when market time is shortening, or median asking prices are rising, bargains may be disappearing.) There is even something called the Market Action Index, which gives areas a score on a 1-to-100 scale.

The reports have one noteworthy flaw: all the stats are based on listing prices, not the prices at which properties sell. Knowing how much people in your target area are asking for their houses is definitely not the same thing as knowing what houses are selling for. Bergner says the company is looking at ways to incorporate sold data later.

Rexcheck, offers quick video appraisals of homes on the market. The service is the brainchild of Nii Addo, a Chicagoan who, after emigrating from Ghana a dozen years ago, got frustrated with tramping through lots of houses. Working with his brother, he developed a YouTube–like video platform intended to show homes to people in other countries contemplating a move here. (“But it also works if you’re already in Chicago and don’t want to go out in the bad weather,” Addo says.) Listers pay $400 for the cost of producing the video, but nothing to put the video on Rexcheck, Addo says.

The offerings, called “24/7 Open Houses,” are thin right now, and some of them are promotional pieces for condo developments, not single listings. But it’s a good start, with personable videos that really give you a feel for the property.

• Sussex & Reilly has just introduced a cell phone-based application called Homes for Sale that brings information about and pictures of all listed homes to your cell phone. Developed by Smarter Agent, the service is not yet available for all phones; the Blackberry and iPhone versions, among others, are in development, the company says. The cost to use the service might be free or might run up to $4.99 a month, depending on your wireless phone carrier.

• Last spring, @Properties introduced a useful but limited Market Report; this month, the service got an upgrade that expands its usefulness. While the original version only covered the 21 parts of the city where @Properties is most represented, the Market Report now covers all 77 Chicago neighborhoods. Like Prudential’s report, this one from @Properties divides the market in any area into four different price tiers, so you can watch the range that suits your budget. Unlike Prudential, @Properties bases most of its stats on sold prices, giving users a clearer indication of what has happened in the area, not just what sellers hope will happen.
 

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