The revolution in online interactive mapping tools empowers home buyers with a great view … of roofs. And while mapping can satiate the thirst for “location, location, location” information, real estate agents know that what’s on the inside counts, too.

There are many ways to display home interiors online: slide shows and 360-degree panorama views, virtual tours and full-motion digital videos, interactive floor plans and street-level photos, and multimedia hybrids that incorporate a number of technologies.

For J.R. Crawford, a John L. Scott real estate agent in Vashon, Wash., the choice in virtual tour technology was all about standing out in a real estate market that has more agents than property listings.

The island community of Vashon, in Washington’s Puget Sound, has about 10,000 residents, 32 property listings and 60 real estate agents, Crawford says. “I was looking for an edge — How can I get my listings out there to other people who don’t know about the Puget Sound?”

She looked at several technologies but wasn’t satisfied. “I really couldn’t find any of them I liked. I didn’t think they gave the feeling of the house. (Some) were a little bit of a bump up of what you get on the MLS,” she said.

Steve Amos, founder of FKR tours, a company that offers virtual tour services for real estate professionals, said that the distortion effects of panorama imagery can be disorienting for some viewers. And then there is the problem of representing the layout of the home online with a collection of images.

Amos found GiveMePower Corp., a vendor that builds software to capture digital floor plans, and he combined this technology with photographs to create interactive online floor plans. Web site visitors can move a cursor over the floor plans to see photographs. Icons display the location and angle of each photograph.

The floor plans show such details as walls, doors, windows, decks, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, and fireplaces, among others.

There are several other companies that offer floor plan tools and services for the real estate industry, such as Obeo, Icovia and (see Inman News article).

The GiveMePower software, PowerCAD SiteMaster, interacts with a laser measuring device that communicates the measurements wirelessly to a laptop or handheld computer. The software draws the digital floor plan as the measurements are taken. Amos said, “Our typical accuracy — we try to keep within one-sixteenth of an inch.”

The tools make it possible for one person to quickly create a floor plan, Amos said, and he has developed complimentary techniques to measure the thickness of walls, for example, and produce more accurate measurements. There aren’t a huge number of online property listings that feature floor plans because “going out and actually capturing an as-built (floor plan) is very difficult,” he said.

“It’s rather problematic to draw a house. It is full of little problems like ‘How thick is a wall?’ Also, if you make a mistake then the mistake tends to percolate around the drawing and tends to amplify while the drawing process is going on.”

The software, called PowerCAD SiteMaster, can overcome such obstacles as freestanding walls, curved walls and other custom features that can be difficult to plot using traditional tools, he said.

Amos had earlier experimented with another type of technology that captures a flurry of laser-based measurements in every direction to generate room dimensions. That technique, which Amos said is akin to a garden sprinkler, has its limitations. “We tried that, and people’s furnishings and wall hangings would get in the way. With GiveMePower you don’t have to face that particular problem,” he said.

Real estate agents could probably figure out how to use the software on their own, Amos said, and the measurements can take more or less time depending on the degree of accuracy that agents are seeking. “It can take a couple of days between the photographs and measuring and drawing and the whole thing — and that’s typically not an investment that the real estate agent is able to make,” he said. If there is already a blueprint for a property, the creation of the interactive floor plan can be reduced to a couple of hours, he added.

Crawford said she uses the interactive floor plans for all of her property listings, and last year was her best year in the real estate industry since she joined the business seven years ago. “I have had some really positive feedback,” she said, and prospective buyers from outside the area have made travel plans to visit homes that they viewed in the floor plan tours, she said. And these buyers already have a sense of the properties’ layouts because of the online tools, she said. “They said, ‘I know where to go — the kitchen’s right over there.’ “

Since Amos adapted the GiveMePower technology for the residential real estate industry, the company is now marketing to real estate professionals. Janeen Norman-Lando, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based GiveMePower, noted that real estate professionals can incorporate digital audio recordings and photographs with the floor plans, and the company offers training for its software. The software cost about $1,500 and a wireless-equipped laser measuring device runs about $700, she said.

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