Real estate search on digital earth a few years down the road

Finding a flat for rent or the right house to buy is actually quite a challenge. Just think about what would be important to you. Close to public transport, walking distance to the bakery (very important!), a supermarket not too far away. How about something green when you look out of the window? Or some mountains, a park, a lake or even the coastline close by. Would be nice, when you want to go for runs, wouldn’t it? Or do you prefer the city centre? Being close to where stuff is happening? I guess you also want to live in a certain kind of neighbourhood, where you feel safe and happy. Not far away from work. You don’t want it to be noisy. If you have kids, how about a child-friendly environment and a kindergarten in the vicinity? Now the favourite place will probably differ, depending on your individual needs, likes and constraints. So how do you go about finding that favourite place? A real estate agent? The newspaper? A map? A walk around? Maybe you’ll combine different strategies to come to a conclusion.

With the new digital earth applications, it has become a whole lot easier to explore and discover places virtually. Plain maps, aerial photographs, birds eye imagery, socio-demographic overlays, Points of Interest such as the bakery, the bus stops, the train station – just select what you want to have displayed in context with other bits of information. However, finding that favourite place is still far from being really straightforward and convenient.

Now take birds-eye imagery and current 3D-City models a little bit further and combine them with the sophisticated databases that already exist and enable you to filter a 3-bedroom place built in the last 5 years within your budget and in a certain area. Imagine, how you walk around in a virtual 3D-landscape, being able to view everything from many different perspectives. Some computer games these days will give you a good idea what will be possible for the „real“ mirror earth. With your preferences defined, you start walking around the virtual town. You see the free apartments highlighted in some way and the houses that are yet to be sold. Of course, you can walk inside and have a 360 look around.

Has this potential to disrupt the real estate industry? Introducing Google Earth Real Estate or Microsoft Virtual Earth Flat Finder. Of course by then, anyone will have a digital camera that will output stitched panoramas straight away, ready to be uploaded into digital earth from the mobile device. It will be as easy as just taking a photograph and sending it to someone. Next to no effort required.

I guess efforts are under way to make all this happen, and there will be people claiming that we can already do this. However, I still think the real estate agents will have some more time to prepare… Can’t yet find that place that I am looking for!

4 Gedanken zu „Real estate search on digital earth a few years down the road&8220;

  1. I looked into such a real estate tool based on MapObjects back in (I think) 2003.

    We discovered some big problems during the research phase. Real estate agents, at least here in Auckland, have quite a grip on house sales in desirable suburban areas. Unfortunately, such suburbs are the most likely to attract Internet real estate researchers/buyers/sellers. The agents maintain lists of houses for sale and will match them up with a waiting list of buyers who have approached their agency. They essentially moderate information flow to prevent a „true“ market from developing. Since their entire edge over competitors is knowledge about the local „terrain“, they will act against an online competitor which offers such information on an easy-to-use website. That means the easiest marketing route (partnering with existing real estate agents) was blocked, so we gave up the idea.

    If I were to guess, I’d say the successful US real estate online marketplaces target educated people (particularly women) who are moving cities/state and/or like doing the footwork themselves and/or keep a tight rein on their spending. That way the website is as much a „stranger“ to the real estate buyer as a local real estate agent. The website might have less information about the target real estate market than a knowledgeable local agent and it’s structured within the confines of a website user-interface, but on the other hand is also much more discoverable via Google searches etc. In a country of 300 million, I’d guess there’s a fairly substantial immediately accessible market using that strategy.

    Another strategy would be to provide tools for low sales volume real estate agents to reach potential buyers out of their normal catchment area, in the hopes of piggybacking on their increase sales success.

    Of course, the US market is much different to NZ. In the US, the buyer and sell each have their own agent.

    Another interesting real estate category are apartments in high density areas. But they have their own issues, such as a lack of available information regarding 3D building shapes, and apartment locations within those buildings.

    Anyway, back to it.

  2. Ed,

    thanks for your comment. Considering what you mentioned, it may be another whole issue to get something going, once you do have a new and innovative online service – because of existing structures and the way the market works right now.

    I guess everything is just progressing a lot more slowly than one would hope for. Finding a place to rent from the newspaper used to be reading 3 or 4 lines of text and I guess that is what it is actually still like in most places.

    On the other hand, you have online real estate market places, which offer heaps more information, such as images, floor plans, a map with a push-pin showing the location… However, the way users access this information is mostly restricted to a search/filter interface using combo boxes, and text fields, or the more innovative ones, which allow you to navigate a 2D map to find the push-pins.

    I have not really seen a user interface, built on the digital earth idea and an associated virtual wandering metaphor – that’s what I’d love to do – walk around virtually and look for places just as I would walk around a town to get a sense of place and an idea about where I would want to live – except that you wouldn’t be able to see which flats were free and you also wouldn’t have access to all that other information (images, floor plans…) when you actually walk around – unless you own a mobile device with a super innovative location based flat-for-rent-finder service of course.

    But who knows, maybe there are already services out there – just that I can’t find them 😉

  3. So, you could harvest some data from an existing website and build up a demo. does that with data from craigslist combined with GMaps, but its pretty basic.

    Key part would be finding a website that has the data you need and preferably already asks the lister for each piece of information (so you’re not parsing it from text).

    Rob 🙂

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