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. For home shoppers looking for backup before they buy, we've put together the following list of must-have apps to make them secure in their decision: 9. Redfin
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.
Available for: Apple iPad and iPhone, Google Android
The National Association of Realtors stocks its site with more than 4 million homes for sale, GPS-based searches, virtual tours, seller contacts and home-and-garden tips. Unlike other listing sites, however, the Realtor app has access to almost all MLS databases and is extremely accurate thanks to near-constant updates. It's not quite as flashy as the others and won't tell you where the best nearby happy hour is, but it's by far the most practical. 5. Walk Score
Available for: Apple iPhone For home shoppers who dig biking around, hopping trains and buses and avoiding driving at all costs, a house or condo's location is further up the priority list than the home itself. Long blocks, tons of amenities and lots of transportation and bike lanes are Walk Score's ideal local traits and fuel its scoring system. The company's app brings up neighborhood scores instantly, calculates commute times, lists nearby amenities and even contacts owners and landlords on the fly. 4. GreatSchools
Available for: Apple iPad and iPhone Know what makes walkable neighborhoods and cool amenities seem like quaint little minutiae? School districts. While not every parent hunting for a home puts those two words at the top of his or her home shopping list, there are education-minded parents who will bite the bullet for eight to 12 years and settle into a small, subpar home if it means great schooling for their kids. GreatSchools has those homebuyers in the crosshairs with an app that contains information on more than 125,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. Parents can compare schools by grade level, distance, community rating, school rating or enrollment size, read parent reviews and share school information with friends and family. When none of the other stuff matters until graduation day, GreatSchools is the only app you'll need. 3. CrimeMapping
Available for: Apple iPhone Schools and stuff only matter so much to folks who view school grounds as potential mass-crime sites and every store or restaurant as a robbery waiting to happen. For those homebuyers, CrimeMapping takes information from various local law-enforcement agencies and breaks them down by time, date, type and proximity to your location. If someone broke into a car down the block and stole toll money out of the cup holder, this app created by the not-at-all-ominous-sounding Omega Group will let you know. It'll either help you sleep soundly in your new home or help you not sleep at all in a state of permanent vigilance. 2. Mint
Available for: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android We could recommend a mortgage calculator here, but any listings site worth its salt has one, and multiple other apps perform that function perfectly well. Mint goes a few steps ahead of all of them by helping users manage their mortgage, track student loans, keep up with credit card payments, monitor investments and see where money's coming in and where it's going. As long as you're OK with feeding the app your banking information -- a dicey proposition for those who value privacy, identity and every penny they save -- Mint can help buyers make an informed decision come closing time. 1. DocuSign
Available for: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android First-time homebuyers with mortgages, know this: You're going to be signing more paperwork than you ever thought possible. You're going to sign and initial it, submit it, sign again in the places you missed before and then get more documents to sign just to make the signing go away. DocuSign makes all of this unnecessary by reducing those piles of pages into digital form, letting you sign all contracts electronically and keeping track of signatures so nothing gets lost. You'll always have the most recent version of each document and you won't have to waste time redrafting, printing, scanning or mailing. If your sellers and agents all adopt DocuSign or are using it already, it'll take a lot of time and paper out of the process. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.