(This is Part 2 of a four-part series. See Part 1: Online search to take real estate by storm; Part 3: Online magazine puts new twist on real estate advertising; and Part 4: Real estate’s future driven by Tablets, Dashboards.)

Mapping sounds pretty boring, wouldn’t you agree? When you see the next generation of mapping technology, however, your attitude may undergo an earth-shaking change.

When Udi Manber, the CEO of A9.com took the stage at Real Estate Connect last month, I was ready to yawn my way through his presentation on mapping. Instead, I found myself riveted to the screen as Manber demonstrated the technology that had everyone at the conference buzzing.

A9 is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com. Amazon understands the Web consumer and has branched out beyond traditional search and E-commerce. Rather than just listing books for sale, their software looks at your user patterns and recommends titles based upon your past selections. In addition, if you are unfamiliar with Amazon’s other powerful Web tool, www.Alexa.com, click on that link to see how Alexa independently ranks Web traffic on more than 4 million Web sites worldwide.

Amazon’s latest foray into mapping, A9.com, will soon turn business advertising on its head. A9.com is still in beta (i.e. the product is in final testing before being released to consumers.) To understand how this tool works, imagine the following. You’re staying at a hotel in a major city and you’re hungry for Thai food. Where should you go? You could check the Yellow Pages for ideas or ask the Concierge. Would you know how to get there? Would you get lost? Would the restaurant’s appearance turn you off when you arrived? The A9 tool allows you to see an actual picture of the restaurant. It also allows you to walk the streets, much as you would view a property on a virtual tour. How did they do this? They placed a camera on a truck, linked it to a GPS system and to their proprietary software, and literally took 35 million pictures of businesses throughout major U.S. cities. Not only can you “walk” to the restaurant online, you can preview what the restaurant and the area look like before ever leaving your hotel.

In terms of the opportunity for agents, imagine advertising with A9 much like you would with Google on a pay-per-click basis. This is local Web marketing at its finest. You could also go to the vendors in your market area and make arrangements to provide Web site visitors with e-coupons to their businesses. In exchange, the vendors would agree to refer leads to you.

A9 could also be used to create relocation packages showing key businesses in your local area. Relocation clients can “see” the city without ever having to leave their home.

A slightly different approach comes from a company called MapMuse. Traditional Internet mapping services only plot the location of a single place. MapMuse not only plots whole categories of places on one map, it also provides a simple way to view information and photographs of those places. While A9’s tool provides an exciting new alternative to the traditional Yellow Pages, MapMuse works as a sophisticated tool to show users where properties are located in relation to other properties in the same price range. On a MapMuse map, users can simply “roll over” an icon with the mouse cursor and information and photos pop out of the map. Clicking on an icon displays detailed information about the place, as well as the picture of the listing. For example, assume you have a client who is searching for a $600,000, 4-bedroom, 3.5-bath property with a view and a pool. How many properties are located in that price range and where are they located? MapMuse generates a map showing the locations of each current listing on the MLS that meets the user’s search criteria.

MapMuse also provides a host of other extremely useful information. For example, where is the nearest school? What day care centers are located in this area? Where is the nearest Starbuck’s and how do you get there? If you’re visiting a new area, what are the historical sites of interest? Where can you go running or in-line skating? How about finding a terrific winery? Where’s the nearest golf course or public park? MapMuse provides all of this information as well as the directions to locate each.

Like A9, MapMuse can be a powerful tool for relocation packages. MapMuse currently partners with a number of Realtor associations, as well as individual real estate companies. It can also be a powerful listing consultation tool to demonstrate to sellers when they may be listing their property at too high of a price. For example, if the seller wants to list his/her property at 10 percent higher than competing properties, plug the information for that price into MapMuse to show the seller that no one else in that service area is priced that high. Then show the seller the large number of listings available in the lower price ranges.

Interested in more trends for the future? Look for next week’s column.

Bernice Ross, co-owner of Realestatecoach.com, has written a new book, “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters,” available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com.

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