In a story about historic maps published this week in the New Yorker magazine, William Finnegan writes, “Looking at Old World maps, you can see it happen. Around the turn of the sixteenth century, dragons start to withdraw from the seas west of Europe, and landmasses appear. Continents slowly take on more precise shapes. California is discovered but remains an island, in the European mind, for two hundred years.”

This week a friend of mine in California took the Kata Beach address of where I am staying in Phuket, Thailand, and located me on Google Earth.

Google maps are fact-based, precise, down to my bald head.

Precision versus imagination.

These two words capture so well the change in real estate over the last decade, thanks to technology.

A horde of technology innovations are bringing transparency, clarity and precision to an industry that operated in an old world of imagination, promotion and sales. Like historic maps, the pitch was simple: imagine this place and I can make it happen.

Not today — exact information guides the decision more than the sales pitch. Wary consumers have new pals: reliable data, tools and information.

The revolution in Internet mapping is an example of that precision. My friend who used Google Earth does not need secondhand information when she can use Google maps to locate a property. You no longer rely on a guesstimate of a home’s value, when you can study real-time comps from mega-databases that store 40 million property records. When an unscrupulous real estate agent says this is the “best deal on the market,” you can avoid gullibility by eyeballing the entire multiple listing service online.

In the next six months, a new generation of innovation will overwhelm the industry.

New electronic services with Web marketplace features built entirely on information are being hatched. The way buyers and sellers transact real estate could be transformed in the coming 12 months. A finger on the pulse of that innovation is the Inman News pipeline of press releases and news tips, announcing new products. If you were to scan the list of registrations for the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, you would not recognize many of the names, their ideas nor the company founders.

The mapping technologists, as an example, are swarming around real estate like flies at Inman family summer potlucks in the rural Midwest. Inman News devoted a recent newsletter to the mapping innovations by both Realtors and technology firms.

Take Barbara Major, a Realtor for RE/MAX of Southern Marin in Mill Valley, Calif., who was the first agent in her market to offer a multiproperty mapping tool launched this year by WolfNet Technologies.

These seemingly benign applications, like maps, are more radical than people realize. They are built on the real estate tradition of “location, location, location,” but the tool blended with information reorganizes the entire process of home finding.

Add video and audio to data and maps and the new world will be even more eye opening. Imagine, finding my Thai Villa on Google Earth and clicking on the house and viewing an Inman Stories Video of the house. Not far fetched, the movie is being edited as we speak.

As always, the challenge for the industry is to embrace innovation, not to live in fear of it. Those who partnered are miles ahead of those who attacked and put their head in the sand.

Realtors and brokers that embraced Web lead generation, new business models and new applications five or six years ago are way ahead of those who used fear to cast doubt.

My grandmother used to say, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.”


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