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I’m currently going through the joyful process of buying a flat in London, which means my phone is full to the brim with estate agent apps.
Due to the prolonged, addictive and often frantic nature of searching online for somewhere to live, these apps are incredibly useful and make the whole process marginally more manageable.
Thankfully having almost completed on our flat purchase (touch wood) I’m ready to delete them all and free up some space on my phone.
But before I do, here’s a run-through of what makes these apps so useful.
By the way, these apps are just the ones that I used during my house search. I believe high-end estate agents Knight Frank and Hamptons also have smartphone apps, but they’re not available on Android (plus I wasn't looking for a £2m studio flat in Mayfair).
And for more on this topic, read my previous post looking at eight ways estate agents should be making use of mobile.
The bad thing about the Foxtons app is that it only covers properties in London and Surrey, it requires a login, and using it means you’ll probably end up getting a call from Foxtons.
If you can overcome those barriers to entry, the app itself is actually very user-friendly.
The search tool is clear and simple to use, with big text fields and buttons to cater for those of us with fat thumbs.
Users can search by postcode, street name or area (the latter uses predictive search), or alternatively there is a handy map search function.
Filter options are selected using scrollable menus rather than having to type into the text fields. Altogether an excellent UX.
As one would expect, search results are displayed both in map and list views, and can be sorted based on criteria such as price or date added. There’s also a really useful feature that enables users to setup email alerts for a particular search in just two clicks.
Within each property listing users can easily swipe between a decent description of the flat, several photos, a floorplan and map.
There is also a click-to-call button so house hunters can quickly get in touch, plus the ability to add a flat to a favourites list.
The app also has a valuation feature in case you want to find out what your home is worth.
However it’s really just a lead generation tool as users either have to enter in all their property and personal information, or call up to book an appointment with a Foxtons valuer.
Overall the app's simple UI and intelligent functionality contribute to a great user experience.
I tended not to use Rightmove that much during my property search as I found that its listing were often very out of date, so it included properties that had been taken off the market weeks ago.
But even so it can be useful as it will still occasionally reveal properties that aren’t included in the Foxtons and Zoopla apps.
The home screen is neatly designed with big buttons at the top directing you to the search tools for sale and rental properties.
However the search tools themselves would benefit from a redesign, as users have to first ‘Apply filters’ and then enter a different tab to select a location.
This could surely all be simplified and included in one tab?
Also, in the location field it doesn’t say what terms you’re able to enter (e.g. postcode, area or street name).
On the plus side, the search results offer an improved user experience.
Results can be viewed in a list or map view (including a satellite view), there are various sorting options, a ‘save search’ option and the ability to create an email alert.
The property listings also offer a huge amount of information, including images, floorplans, map and street views, nearby schools, and a click-to-call button.
Obviously most of this information is provided by the agents themselves, but it’s still well presented on Rightmove’s app.
Rightmove also has a tool that allows homeowners to invite estate agents around to value their home en masse by sending their details to all the agents that cover their area.
Personally I can’t imagine ever using this feature as I’d want to phone them first, but it’s still a clever tool and one that I’m sure some people will use.
Overall though, the app is well designed and offers an intuited UI, though it is let down by a poor search tool and out-of-date results.
This was my go-to app while flat hunting, and one that I highly recommend if you’re on the lookout for a new place to live.
It may be just be my perception, but it seems to have the most comprehensive and up-to-date search results, so there’s less chance of you calling an agent only to find out the flat has already gone.
The home screen has a simple design that gives access to Zoopla’s various tools – sale and rental searches, historic property sales, commercial and overseas properties and a search tool that finds places to live based on travel time.
Personally I was only interested in buying a two-bed flat, and the search tool makes it very easy to find what you’re looking for.
Enter the search radius, number of beds, price, any specific keywords, and off you go.
The search tool doesn’t stipulate whether it wants a street name, postcode or area, but I know from experience that it will accept any of the above.
Compared to the other apps on this list the search results could be neatened up a bit, but they provide all the necessary sorting options, email alerts and the ability to switch between a list and map view.
The property listings offer a similar layout to that offered by Rightmove, with property description, floorplans, images, nearby school and maps all accessible from the same page.
If you do want to contact the agent there is also a click-to-call button.
A quick conclusion...
All of these apps offer a decent user experience, with intuitive interfaces, simple functionality and useful flourishes such as the ability to quickly email agents or setup an email alert for a particular search query.
All things considered, I think the Foxtons app offers the best overall user experience, but due to the superior search results Zoopla is my favourite of the three.
If only estate agents put this much effort into the rest of the customer experience.