Photos of homes and neighborhoods will now be served up along with home prices by Zillow, and the home valuation site has also tweaked the algorithms that calculate its estimates.

“We’re adding close-up aerial photos that show houses and properties at a 45-degree angle,” said Spencer Rascoff, chief financial officer of Zillow. The new feature comes from MSN Virtual Earth and will be available in a few major cities to begin with, then throughout the country, he said.

Zillow launched its beta site in February, offering consumers free information and valuations on more than 60 million homes in the United States. In addition to the other changes, the updated site now has data on more than 65 million homes, with enough data to make estimates on more than 47 million.

Mapping features have become widespread in real estate Web sites, with many real estate brokerages and other entities offering mashups of Google Earth, Google’s equivalent to Virtual Earth, to help consumers locate properties on their sites.

Zillow’s new Virtual Earth feature went live on the site at midnight Wednesday. It will add 45-degree, low-altitude aerial photos that provide views of a home and its surroundings from four directions. The images appear on the home details pages after a consumer asks the site to calculate the price of his or her home.

The new algorithm for Zillow’s My Zestimator tool also went live last night.

“We reworked the algorithm and changed the My Zestimator tool,” Rascoff said. (The My Zestimator tool enables consumers to add details to help fine-tune the price estimate on their homes.)

The company compared different Zestimates – price estimates on specific homes provided by the site – with the actual prices those homes brought when they sold. The engineers then readjusted various elements to come up with those prices.

“We’re able to compare regressions that compare different Zestimates with transaction prices at different points in time. So we can, for example, say the Zestimate on this house was $600,000 but it sold for $610,000” Rascoff said. “What if we had weighted the square footage differently, would we have arrived at a more accurate result.”

Last week, Zillow announced that it has formed a technical advisory board to provide independent advice on improving the technology and algorithms that support the company’s online services for real estate consumers.


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