Editor’s note: Mapping has quickly become an essential part of real estate Web sites as map-based searching offers a more streamlined, interactive way of looking for homes. Brokers and agents are still sorting out how to incorporate maps into their Web sites and turn them into a lead-generating tool. In this three-part series, we go beyond the buzz to uncover what mapping can do for real estate business.

Editor’s note: Mapping has quickly become an essential part of real estate Web sites as map-based searching offers a more streamlined, interactive way of looking for homes. Brokers and agents are still sorting out how to incorporate maps into their Web sites and turn them into a lead-generating tool. In this three-part series, we go beyond the buzz to uncover what mapping can do for real estate business. (See Part 2 and Part 3.)

When Ian Pilling was searching for a home with his wife three years ago, the couple would drop off their toddlers with the grandparents on Sunday and hit the road, racing to see all the properties on their list within a three-hour time window.

Pilling says he would have been able to get a lot more out of those three hours if today’s mapping technology had been available.

“You can only devote a portion of the weekend to your house search,” said MapQuest’s Business Solutions marketing manager. “Mapping technology can help you quickly find houses with your criteria in the neighborhoods you want. And you can create an itinerary that takes you from your house to your agent’s place and the six houses you want to see.”

Many options exist for consumers searching online for real estate and a number of companies offer a map-based interface for searching for-sale homes. Map-based searching offers a more streamlined way of looking for homes in which the consumer doesn’t have to go through screen after screen to find out location-related information.

According to Pilling, it’s a “six clicks of separation” thing.

“When you visit most real estate Web sites, it takes six clicks to view a property,” Pilling said. “We (MapQuest) counted the clicks. You go to the site, put in your ZIP code, click ‘Go.’ Then the next screen comes up, and so on. When a home finally comes up, you still don’t know if it’s in the neighborhood you like.”

This mode doesn’t support the well-known real estate aphorism, “location, location, location,” according to Pilling.

“Map-based search gives you location right up with the other criteria such as number of bedrooms,” Pilling said.

An example of the kind of approach Pilling advocates is the Web site of Roger Fazendin Realtors. The first thing that visitors see on the site is a colorful map of a section of Minnesota.

A graphic of a yellow house appears in every part of the map where a home is for sale. Mousing over the graphic brings up a thumbnail photo and description, and clicking on the thumbnail brings up more information.

If the home buyer is interested in a different area of the state, he or she can quickly change what sector is represented. A smaller map of the entire state appears to the right, and the home buyer can move a small square on that map until it’s positioned in the right area. After a couple of seconds, the larger map adjusts to represent that area.

“Once real estate firms have their online presence to help people search for real estate the way they want to, it’s a matter of further differentiating yourself by presenting more information visually,” Pilling said.

Another site, Mightymap.com, focuses exclusively on New York City.

Within Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, the site has links to some 40 micro-neighborhoods, such as Times Square and the Upper East Side. Co-ops, condominiums and all kinds of buildings are tracked, represented on the map by dollar signs. (Red dollar signs are condos; all others are black.)

When the visitor clicks on a dollar sign, the address flashes up on the screen, a closeup of the neighborhood appears in the map and a box appears in the lower right-hand corner with information on the property such as the building class and the year built.

“What Mighty Map is about is not searching for a home but getting good independent research tools,” said Jonas Rudofsky, chief executive officer and founder of the company. Rudofsky has 14 years’ experience in the field as a commercial real estate broker and real estate developer.

Click here to see a video interview with Mighty Map’s Rudofsky.

“When someone calls you up and says, ‘I got a great apartment in such and such a place,’ you can go right to a particular block on our map and see the property relative to a subway station, relative to where you work,” Rudofsky said.

“You can go right to a particular block and look at sales prices on the map both for houses and condominiums,” the CEO said.

“You can look at who owns the building. The zoning of the property. The shape of the property. How far you are from various attractions,” Rudofsky said. “It’s being able to check the legitimacy of what someone tells you.”

Information offered includes the occupants of the buildings, any tax or building violations, “everything registered to the parcel,” Rudofsky said.

One special feature on the main page, Power Lists, offers a mind-boggling assortment of information including the 10 apartment buildings with the most residential units, the 25 largest floor plates, the 50 oldest buildings and the 10 buildings with the largest number of floors.

“Given that buying a home is probably the largest purchase most people in this country make, decision support is important to the seller and the buyer,” Rudofsky said.

***

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

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