Bird’s Eye View
THE DIFFICULTY OF FINDING the perfect property and navigating the requisite legal and financial obstacles has given the UK property market a reputation for being among the most expensive and complex in the world. For several years, customers have been able to use online search to narrow down their list of top properties, which helped accelerate the process of buying or renting. However, the first generation of online property sites was text-heavy and offered little in the way of visuals, apart from static maps to pinpoint a property’s location.
Today, the industry has evolved to offer the kind of online property search and mapping experience that yields more engaged, interested customers. Location-based search, including detailed, visual elements such as ‘bird’s eye’ imagery, has made the online property search experience more immersive. This includes the ability to choose street, aerial or composite map views, zoom in and out for different perspectives, and visualise a property in relation to surrounding buildings, schools, parks, transport links and other important local features.
Among the mapping technologies and services that have proven most useful to the UK property market is Microsoft Virtual Earth – a set of powerful, integrated online mapping and search services that use unique bird’s eye and satellite imagery that businesses can integrate with a website to offer a superior property-search tool.
With ten years’ experience in the mapping industry, including support of the TerraServer project, aimed at making satellite imagery available for commercial interests, Microsoft took a pioneering role in online mapping. Not only does Virtual Earth offer simple application programming interfaces (APIs) for integrating mapping information on to websites, but it also provides developers and businesses with a robust platform for creating custom, location-based search solutions.
“We are seeing only the tip of the iceberg where potential applications for mapping data are concerned,” says Rob Blackwell of Active Web Solutions (AWS), a Microsoft-certified partner that develops advanced web solutions for a variety of customers. “Increased demand for visual data, such as geo-information, has resulted in AWS creating a dedicated team to work with the Virtual Earth platform in developing solutions for industries as diverse as construction and travel and tourism.”
officeboker.com recently deployed Virtual Earth to replace another online mapping technology. According to Neil Cadman, the company’s IT director, officebroker.com was looking for a mapping solution that provided customers with a rich, dynamic user experience, that served as a flexible platform upon which they could build custom applications. The deployment of Virtual Earth is part of an overall effort by officebroker.com to improve the efficiency of its operations and provide better services for its customers.
Mr Cadman’s team created a tool that allows members of the sales team to select an area from the Virtual Earth application, and then identify all the commercial spaces within that area that meet a customer’s parameters, and then, directly from Virtual Earth, send the customer a report that includes a map with virtual drawing pins that represent each of those properties. The customer can then to click on a drawing pin using Virtual Earth to view images of the property and additional details.
Virtual Earth also increases the knowledge that officeboker.com’s consultants have of a given area, despite sometimes working out of offices that are hundreds of miles away.ΓÇ¥ Being able to talk about specific locations and pin point areas has helped close numerous deals,” says UK sales manager, Dan Murphy. ΓÇ£The ability to follow road networks, tube lines and pick out points of interest using Virtual Earth has given our clients more of a visual idea of where potential offices are.”