Imagine being able to house-hunt without even going online, just by clicking an icon on the desktop and using the power of Google to search a 3-D satellite map to display houses by geographical area.

Thanks to the techno-smarts of a couple of geeks at Prudential Chicago, this scenario is now a reality for folks who are house hunting in Chicago.

Just three days after Google released its new satellite image

Imagine being able to house-hunt without even going online, just by clicking an icon on the desktop and using the power of Google to search a 3-D satellite map to display houses by geographical area.

Thanks to the techno-smarts of a couple of geeks at Prudential Chicago, this scenario is now a reality for folks who are house hunting in Chicago.

Just three days after Google released its new satellite imagery-based mapping product, Google Earth, Chris McKeever, director of IT at Prudential Chicago, and Camden Daily, the firm’s senior Web architect, had their way with it. On July 1, they launched a plug-in that integrates the brokerage’s listings with Google Earth.

Consumers need only download Google Earth, then cruise by a special page on the Pru Chicago site one time to grab the plug-in. From then on, they’re good to go with listings that update six times a day, courtesy of Pru Chicago.

Mapping technology today is a hot commodity in online home shopping, enabling people to search for homes in the same way they think about where they live instead of relying on ZIP codes or city or county names. A recent Inman News report focused on mapping technology and how brokers and agents are using it.

“This is the perfect bridge between us and the end user,” McKeever said. With this application, he said, consumers won’t have to go to the Pru Chicago site to search for homes for sale. “They go to Google Earth and they have control over where they are searching from.” Also, the application has the convenience of not having to launch a Web browser – it’s on the desktop.

“Everyone in the United States is eventually going to install Google Earth,” said McKeever of the popular application. Google Earth is one of many free offerings, including Google News and Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, that have caught on over the last couple of years.

Google Earth combines 3D buildings and terrain with mapping capability and Google search. It enables users to fly from space to street-level views to find geographic information and explore places around the world. It can be downloaded at http://earth.google.com.

McKeever and Daily were able to whip out the plug-in quickly because they were already working on something similar when Google Earth appeared, McKeever said.

“We had been working on a browser plug-in so that when a user opens their browser they would get a list of properties,” McKeever said. When Google Earth launched June 28, the two saw their chance and quickly designed the modification.

When using the Pru Chicago plug-in, users open Google Earth and see a satellite map of the world that zooms in on the United States with a pushpin over Chicago. When users click on the pushpin, they are taken to that city, and can zoom in on whichever area they choose. Individual properties are designated by pushpins. When holding a cursor over the pushpin, a cartoon bubble appears with the property information.

Clicking “More Info” opens Google Earth’s built-in browser to display the listing page from the Prudential site. Users then can look at the actual house and neighborhood in the upper pane, and photos with descriptions in the lower pane.

A screenshot can be seen at the Keyhole Community BBS.

The innovation has created quite a buzz. Brian McClendon, the vice president of Keyhole, Google Earth’s predecessor technology, and Google Earth Engineer Michael Ashbridge e-mailed McKeever and Daily to congratulate them.

“They said, ‘You really impressed us because you did it so quickly. You put it into implementation in ways we didn’t even think it was going to go.’ It was nice to get e-mail from the man behind the curtain,” McKeever said. The unofficial Google blog, as well as other media, have published stories about the mod.

McKeever predicted that other real estate brokerages will jump on the bandwagon. “For the last year there has been a big trend in mapping applications on the Web, and what is a better fit than mapping to do your real estate searching?” he said.

“Real estate seems to be the category in which a lot of the most interesting mapping is being done,” said Greg Sterling of the Kelsey Group. “There is an obvious benefit to consumers to be able to do a map-based search with various elements such as price, location and so forth, which is why developers are seizing on the opportunity to integrate their data.”

Sterling said the real value for Google Earth will be on the Internet.

The folks who are downloading and playing with Google Earth are the techies and the early adopters, but the real action is going to happen on the Web,” Sterling said. “These guys from Prudential could certainly do some version of this on the Internet. They could import Google Maps on their site.”

While Google Earth is “a really cool application,” Sterling said, “the mainstream audience is not going to download and use Google Earth. What Google has said over time is they are going to integrate some or many of the capabilities of Google Earth over time.”

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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