B.C. ISV aims Virtual Earth application at realtors

Getting a bird’s-eye view of a particular neighbourhood should address some real pain points – like the need to save time – for realtors and potential home buyers, said the president of a Web-based software vendor that focuses on the real estate industry.

That’s because the business of property buying is all about the context, said Seain Conover of Nelson, B.C.-based Tarasoft Corp. “The agent photo might just show the house, but in bird’s-eye view, you realize it’s right beside a five-story apartment building, in the shadow.”

Conover said integrating Microsoft Corp.’s mapping and imagery technology, Virtual Earth, with Tarasoft Matrix will grant realtors that “killer feature that Google doesn’t have.”

Plus the resolution is really good, said Conover. “It’s not like it’s ten times further up, it’s a nice low airplane view,” he said, adding the makers have maintained the map imagery accurately.

But it’s more than just a high-resolution imagery where a realtor can zoom in on the target until the roof of the house is visible. There’s an added slant to it, said Ryan Storgaard, strategy manager for search & online services with Microsoft Canada Co. “You can see it as a 45-degree angle and get that sense of what it’s like there, what the street looks like, or what the front of the building looks like.”

The integration of Virtual Earth will also mean the imagery is more dynamic with three-dimensional flyovers – where the viewer gets an aerial view as if flying in a plane or other such air borne vessel – available for select cities so users can see the city layout, said Storgaard.

Besides the much sought-after aerial perspective, Conover said the application programming interface (API) should let real estate agents load their own imagery atop that of Visual Earth to illustrate things like school districts and property boundaries. “So if someone’s looking for a home, they’ll know what school district they’re in just by looking at the map based on it being a slight shade of purple versus a neighbouring slight shade of blue,” he said.

Similarly, agents can define the shape of a property using these transparent customer overlays.

Integrating Microsoft’s Virtual Earth technology responds to an industry need for better customer visualizations, said Conover, adding that the flyover view in particular is one such feature that realtors have been pining for since Microsoft announced the platform capability.

Storgaard said granting real estate agents the ability to provide a “richer and more immersive experience” was the main driver behind the integration, meaning realtors can now couple the technology with industry information like demographics and crime rate.

The decision to integrate Virtual Earth versus another vendor technology, according to Conover, was encouraged by Microsoft’s close work with the real estate industry, and the fact that its mapping and imagery platform had been clearly defined as an enterprise platform.

The integration was also borne out of a long-standing relationship with the Redmond, Wash.-based vendor during which Tarasoft had previously used the “prehistoric” MapPoint, said Conover, who insisted it was not out of a desire to leverage adoption given the ubiquity of Microsoft’s platform.

Microsoft’s push into the enterprise arena with its mapping and imagery technology is not a recent occurrence as the company has been engaged in this area for several years, said Storgaard.

Actually, the company has been collaborating with several Canadian businesses looking to complement corporate services with mapping and imagery technology beyond a “public-facing mapping interface,” he said.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. offers a virtual globe software called Google Earth.

Businesses using a SharePoint platform for emergency response, for instance, might need to integrate workflow and associated imagery to identify the location of assets. Coupling the vendor’s traditional software stack with Virtual Earth services “provide for some very interesting scenarios where mapping becomes a lot more prevalent,” said Storgaard.

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