The Houston Association of Realtors has renovated its popular public property-search site to integrate Microsoft’s Virtual Earth interactive mapping technology and to include other new features.

The HAR.com site, which draws an estimated 900,000 consumers each month, now allows property searches based on proximity to schools, hospitals, police stations and fire stations, as well as a range of business types such as restaurants and supermarkets, according to the announcement.

While some Realtor associations that operate multiple listing services have chosen not to maintain a public-facing property-search site or not to actively promote their public search sites, HAR has invested heavily in the technology and marketing for its site, and has purchased billboard advertising to promote the site.

Users can define a particular area to search in by drawing up boundaries on the online maps. Searches can also be defined by selecting options on drop-down menus.

Colored “pushpins” on the map reveal property locations and provide more detailed property information when users click on them.

The tools also allow searches of the newest listings available through the region’s multiple listing service database.

“Search results may be compared side by side and bookmarked for those interested in tracking listings. Another feature enables those bookmarks to be integrated with several social bookmarking sites, including FaceBook, Digg and del.icio.us,” according to the association’s announcement.

Among the new features is a listing of foreclosed properties, “a feature that has grown in interest among prospective home buyers in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis,” according to the announcement.

Users can also search for recently listed or sold real estate, most viewed or bookmarked real estate, and most or least expensive real estate at the site.

HAR.com also provides detailed tax information for Houston-area properties, and allows users to read text in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, French, German and Italian.

The redesigned Web site has a row of on-screen buttons that feature options including “find a home,” “find a Realtor,” “HAR Realtors,” “commercial properties,” and “international properties.”

A decade ago, “HAR.com was among the first in the nation to provide comprehensive real estate information to online consumers,” said George Stephens, HAR Technology Advisory Group chairman, in a statement, adding that it was a “no-brainer” to invest in redesigning the site.

Founded in 1918, the Houston Association of Realtors has about 29,000 members.

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