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The Evolution of Map Based Searches

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John L. Scott, a brokerage based in the Pacific Northwest, launched a new version of its property search tool ”Neighborhood Wizard(sm)” today (for more read Inman News).

The big news is they are taking advantage of Microsoft’s “polygon drawing tool technology” (now there’s a mouthful – say it 5 times fast) to allow consumers to draw an outline of the search area in which they would like to shop for homes.

J Lennox Scott, CEO of John L. Scott, says “it is almost like using an Etch-A-Sketch” to conduct your searches.

It’s a neat gimmick, designed by real estate technology provider Real Tech LLC. But it’s just that, a gimmick. I gave it a shot on their web site and while fun, it doesn’t really add much to making the search experience any more intuitive.

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Overseas, Properazzi has tried radius based searches (see Properazzi Takes a Snapshot of Europe’s Real Estate Market). Closer to home, there have been many sites that have experimented with different takes on the map search experience (see New Real Estate Search Mashups) too.

What all of this shows me is that no one has really hit upon the right combination of features vs. functionality in a map-based search interface. The technology is still immature, despite becoming de rigeur in nearly all Real Estate 2.0 and new broker web sites.

Unfortunately, the more time you spend searching on these sites (and I’ve spent a lot lately) – the more you realize that map based searches are still quirky, buggy and sometimes downright annoying. Scroll wheels that jump around, or having to click all over the place to zoom in and out; some sites that allow you drag the maps around, others make it down right impossible to zoom in to where you want to be.

Map mashups have been a driving force behind Real Estate 2.0 – but still remain a fairly primitive way to search for real estate. Even sites like Trulia and Redfin, who have consistently led the pack in developing next generation real estate search sites, haven’t got a handle on what works smoothly and intuitively.

I suspect that there are going to take several more generations before searching for property on a map become a truly usable way to find a home.