(BPT) - Just 10 years ago, homebuyers would have started the purchasing process with a phone call to mortgage broker or real estate agent, a drive through a desirable neighborhood and a perusal of the classifieds. In 2013, however, buying a house is a high-tech affair, with technology making it easier than ever to find and finance the home of your dreams.
In fact, nine out of 10 homebuyers use the Internet as a primary search source, and more than half (52 percent) go online first when looking for a home, according to a joint study by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Google. If you're in the market to buy a house this spring, here are five must-have tech tools to make the process easier:
1. Online mortgage applications - and approvals
Real estate experts advise buyers to get approved for a mortgage before they begin shopping. Doing so allows buyers to move quickly when they find a home they want, and can make their offer more appealing to sellers. While many lenders allow borrowers to initiate the application process online, credit reviews and final approval, however, has continued to be done through slow, traditional methods. Now, the eighth largest mortgage company in the U.S., Guaranteed Rate, has upgraded its online services to allow buyers to apply for and get approved online - virtually instantly. Applicants can choose and customize a loan, submit an application, receive their credit scores from all three major credit bureaus, and receive an official approval letter that recognized the borrower's ability to be financed by the company - all online.
On GuaranteedRate.com, customers can choose and customize a loan, submit an application and receive an official approval letter, recognizing the ability for the borrower to be financed by Guaranteed Rate.
'Despite technological advances in other aspects of the real estate industry, the mortgage application process has remained largely manual - and time intensive,' says Scott Stephen, president of Guaranteed Rate's online division. 'By automating the process, homebuyers now have access to the same tools as loan officers. The time it takes to obtain a mortgage approval has been compressed from days or even weeks to as little as 15 minutes.'
Go to www.GuaranteedRate.com to learn more.
2. Mobile apps - The mobile Internet now accounts for 15 percent of global Internet traffic, according to Business Insider. What's more, about one-fifth of real estate related Internet searches happen on mobile devices, according to the NAR/Google study. Google real-estate-related searches on mobile devices soared 120 percent from 2011 to 2012, the study notes.
From Realtor.com (NAR's multiple listing website) to lifestyle websites like Trulia and apps like House Hunter, homebuyers can access a wealth of real estate information, listings, news of buying trends and more via their Android-based mobile devices, iPhones and iPads.
3. Credit monitoring products - While the arrival of truly automated mortgage processes may make it easier to apply, consumers still bear the responsibility of making sure their credit scores are good enough to qualify for a mortgage. Online credit monitoring products are a great tool for getting your credit score and report mortgage-worthy. All three major credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax -- and a host of other financial services companies offer this type of product. Many allow you to access your credit report in real time, obtain your score, view how certain credit decisions may affect your overall score, and even receive alerts when anything new shows up in your credit report and/or influences your score.
4. Multiple listing sites - Searching home listings still remains the most common way house-hunters use the Internet to aid in their efforts. One hundred percent of the buyers studied in the NAR/Google report used the Internet to search for homes. From national sites like Realtor.com and Zillow to to the home pages of local realtors, the interconnectivity of multiple listing services allows consumers to access a broader, more in-depth database of available homes than ever before.
5. Regional/local websites - For many people, the quality of schools and security of the community are key considerations when home shopping. A plethora of websites provide buyers with ample information, including local school district websites, municipal and police department sites, local and state chambers of commerce, state education department sites, and even sites maintained by homeowners associations.
'Just as the Internet has touched virtually every other aspect of our lives, technology has truly transformed how consumers find and finance their homes,' Stephen says. 'From finding just the right house to ensuring they'll be able to pay for it, technology has made it easier than ever for buyers to get in the door of their dream homes.'