NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Before the housing crisis, house hunters entered their search with little more than a few listings and maybe a real estate agent. Today's embattled buyers are a bit more heavily armed.Home sales and prices are inching upward and sub-4% mortgage rates are wooing buyers back into the market, but tightened lending practices up the stakes. Instead of walking into an open house with just a multiple-listings-service printout and tour guide, prospective buyers are toting smartphones and tablets that will let them know almost immediately how long a home's been on the market, what comparable homes in the area have been selling for, what neighborhood school and crime stats look like and whether they'll be able to afford the place at a monthly rate that makes them comfortable.
Available for: Apple ( AAPL ) iPad and iPhone, Google ( GOOG ) Android Want to look at big, pretty home pictures but have a deep-rooted fear of ending up in the suburbs or sticks? Redfin has you covered. Powered by MLS listing and packed with photos, agent notes and property details and history, Redfin excels for buyers searching in large cities but has somewhat limited function elsewhere. It's a big favorite among browsers, though, which makes its app a good place to start. 8. Trulia
Available for: Apple iPad and iPhone, Google Android Real estate sites start blending together in a blur of prices, pictures and ratings once the house hunt begins. Trulia seems all too aware of this and has made its easy-to-use mapping and search functions pillars of its brand. Each listing is couched in nearby restaurant, movie, shopping and other listings from Yelp. For easily distracted homebuyers who wish house shopping wouldn't keep them so far from their Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect, Trulia's "shake to clear" function lets them start the house hunt anew each time they shake their mobile device. 7. Zillow (Z)
Available for: Apple iPad and iPhone, Google Android Speaking of branding, Zillow's lists of recent comparable sales and its "Zestimate" market value estimate have made it a go-to brand for buyers and sellers alike. Real estate agents answer buyer questions and tack their information onto homes they're selling, while buyers can search properties by voice command, mark their favorite properties and share them with friends.