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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Residential real estate is 'local, not national'

Re: 'What a national real estate MLS might look like' (April 24)

Dear Editor:

The current obsession about a national MLS is just another gimmick by third-party companies to get more money from agents and consumers. Selling a home is not like selling a camera or a car or an airplane ticket. Nor can it be compared to commercial or institutional real estate, which is spreadsheet-based. Residential real estate is a local commodity, not a national one. Buying and selling property in a particular city, area and neighborhood demands local knowledge of the area. Purchasing a home is based as much on emotions as it is price. I know there are some great areas around San Francisco, but I don't know anything about them nor does anyone who doesn't live in the area.

The push for a national MLS is just a ploy from third-party marketing companies to find another source of revenue for themselves. While their marketing efforts refer to benefits for consumers, the reality is they don't give a hoot about consumers' best interests. If they can foist this idea on brokers and consumers, I can guarantee it won't come without a hefty marketing fee. How else can they make all this information available to the poor consumers instead of the bad real estate brokers. It used to be called hucksterism; now it is called concern for consumer rights.

What will a national MLS look like? It will look like a huge classified ad, which is what it is.

Kaye Thomas
Real Estate West
Manhattan Beach, Calif.


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Real estate agent puts MLS listings on Google Earth

Integration includes county data of for-sale homes

Friday, April 28, 2006

By Glenn Roberts Jr.
Inman News

Earth Point Earth Point screenshot

Google Earth put the world – at least a computerized version of it – at computer users' fingertips, and a real estate agent in Idaho has put a new spin on property listings by sprinkling local MLS data on this digital globe.

Bill Clark, an agent at Holland Realty in Boise, unified county property records and multiple listing service information and packaged this data for display on the Google Earth application. Google Earth allows users to zoom in and out on a map and to rotate and tilt the map view. In order to view property listings, computer users must first install Google Earth, a free program, and then download property listings from Clark's Earth Point Web site, at http://www.earthpoint.us/.

Properties are color-coded by price, and listings that appeared on the local MLS within the past week are represented with a star-shaped symbol while other properties are represented by a diamond-shaped symbol. The Google Earth representation of the MLS properties shows parcel outlines, based on county records, and users can click on property icons for property descriptions and photos.

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Clark said he worked on the project for about eight months, and the Google Earth-based MLS search capability launched about two months ago. The property listings information is supplied by the Intermountain MLS in Boise, the largest MLS in the state.

There are about 4,000 property listings in Ada and Canyon counties available for viewing via Clark's Google Earth integration, including about 3,200 listings of homes for sale. The property listings are updated daily, he said.

Flyover views are nothing new for Clark, who has maintained a pilot's license since high school and developed a private residential airport with his neighbors. Even so, he said he was dazzled when he first saw the Google Earth tool, which allows viewers to zoom in on any part of the planet – from outer space to a rooftop view. "I saw Google Earth and I just said, 'Holy cow,'" he said.

There are a handful of other real estate-related companies that have offered property listings data for the Google Earth site – Point2, Propsmart.com and ForSaleByOwnerCenter.com are among those that have announced Google Earth integration.

A larger group of real estate sites are using the Google Maps-based platform to display property listings. There are other pluses and minuses to each mapping tool: Google Earth views offer added dimension and customization compared to Google Maps, while Google Maps is a streamlined and simplified mapping tool that operates in a Web browser and doesn't require a data download.

In March, the author of the Google Earth Blog promoted Clark's work, which he said "shows more information, and with more accuracy, than any other real estate listing service I've seen to date."

Greg Manship, director for the Intermountain MLS, said he isn't sure whether a lot of real estate agents in the area are using Clark's tool, though he is familiar with the technology. "He came over and gave us a demo," Manship said. "I've talked to Bill quite a lot about the concept. It's expanding on the IDX data using new technologies that are available."

Another company in the area, Genius Realty, is displaying the MLS data in a Google Maps format at its Web site. Heinrich Wiebe, a manager at Genius Realty, said the company's mapping tool launched about two months ago and is popular with consumers. "Our position is – give them the data," he said.

Heinrich and co-manager Matt Newbill said they are familiar with Clark's Google Earth integration. "It's pretty complex for just your typical end-user," Newbill said. "People are pretty impatient when they're on the Web. The less hoops the better. We don't require logins or passwords to get the data – it's just come and get it."

He also said that consumers are empowered by new property-search tools. "It used to be that only the real estate agents held the data. They are no longer held hostage."

Clark said that his Google Earth integration is a useful tool for listings presentations, and he believes there is a rich future for real estate-related mapping applications. "I'm convinced this is going to be successful and grow. I think in a couple years this will be the standard," he said.

There is a huge community of developers who are building integrations with Google Earth for other purposes, he said, such as map locators for speed-monitoring cameras on European roads and for National Geographic feature articles. "That gave me enough confidence to say there are enough people who – when they see this – they're not going to go anywhere else. Once you have a customer using this they're not going to go back to the old method," Clark said.

"What makes Earth Point special ... is that you use the map itself to hunt for property. Thus, Google Earth becomes the primary interface to the MLS," he said. By contrast, some traditional property-search sites use maps as a secondary source for finding properties, he said.

With those sites, he said, "you enter search criteria on the screen, get this list, and say, 'Well, that's interesting, I wonder where that is," and then map this property. (Mapping) is the last step of your process. Google Earth is the other way around – you can just go hunting like you're in a helicopter. I think it's making it a lot easier to wade through all that data."

The Earth Point project has been rewarding, though it was "a long road" to get it off the ground. It took him about four or five months of work before his first success in getting properties to show up on Google Earth. "When I saw that first dot show up on the map ... I just fell over. That was gratifying. It was a huge challenge. It took me three months to that 'Yes, it really would work.' When I started out there was no one to turn to."

Before he took on the project, Clark worked in the manufacturing industry, and the challenge of integrating property data with Google Earth drew upon his interests in computer programming, mathematics and navigation. "I have flown several times across the U.S. using just a watch and a compass for navigation ... and have done weeklong treks in the Idaho wilderness with even less," he said.

Clark said he would like to add a new layer of information to his Google Earth integration, such as museums and other public attractions. He has also considered mapping local garage sales.

In addition to existing properties, Clark has mapped several new housing developments on Google Earth using developers' subdivision maps. In the future, he said he would consider charging a fee to promote new developments using Google Earth. "The master plan would appear, along with a description of amenities and a link to the subdivision Web site," he said. "Once construction is under way, the links would be geared to the home buyer. They could learn more about the house being built, available options, history of the builder, etc. All this would happen well before anything appeared on the MLS."

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

Copyright 2006 Inman News


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