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The limits of technology

Industry Observer with WideOpen Networks 250784

Emerald Isle BeachThere is no question that technology provides us with some fantastic tools that few people could have predicted twenty years ago.

As real estate agents, we are right in the middle of a revolution.  Buyers and sellers also have options that allow them to come to a property search or listing meeting far more informed than ever before.

I just downloaded the Zillow Droid application to my Droid this afternoon.  The idea that someone can drive around and check prices and details of listings from their cell phone is just amazing.

However, there are limits to the technology.  Just as I have found with Google maps, it all depends on when your area was mapped and how accurately the algorithms calculate addresses.  I have seen the same challenges with GPS systems.

Sometimes it is easy to figure out these errors if you are in a fairly simple area, but if you are in an area with a lot of homes for sale and complex streets, mapping errors can be deadly.

Now I suspect that this will all get better over time, but right now it is far from perfect at least here on the edges of civilization on the Southern Outer Banks.

When I used my Droid to check one of my listings that is on Zillow through syndication, I was surprised to see where it was mapped.  The Zillow map shows it in the wrong place.  When I go to the listing website, the map is correct.  It is a small detail, and I reported it to Zillow, but as more and more consumers start depending on this electronic information, it becomes a challenge to manage and error check all these websites.

I was involved in the development of a hyper-local real estate site designed to have local content and information.  We actually had maps in the initial version, but eventually gave up because of all the mapping errors we were finding.  We decided to pull the maps until we could put in a version where the listing agent could manually adjust the location.

This technology of aerial mapping is rapidly accelerating.  I know that Carteret County now has an inhouse system that gives the county very accurate measurements of buildings from the air.  Because the mapping is done on a regular basis, it is very good and does not have many of the problems found in some other aerial maps.

I have enjoyed watching my own home change on the maps over the last few years.  We have been living in the home for almost four years.  It is only recently that it has shown up as a house on aerial photos.  Before it was a lot with some early construction. Even now the aerial picture is at least five years old since there is no dock behind the house.  Of course when you map the address in Google, it isn't even close to where my house really is.  We are on the water, and the Google map has us well up into the subdivision.

We have seen progress since until about a year or so ago, the subdivision did not even exist on the aerial photos.

None of this means the technology is bad. What we are seeing is that the uses of the technology are outstripping the quality of the data that is available.  We all know what happens to computer results when bad data goes into the system.

One of the new roles of a real estate agent is to make sure that his clients are seeing the correct information.  I spend a fair amount of time capturing images and using tools like SnagIt or Photoshop to correctly point out the locations of homes.

There is a tremendous amount value in much of this new technology, we just need to make certain that everyone uses it with the knowledge that feet on the ground can make all the difference in the information be useful or misleading.  It is one of the areas that we as agents can really make a difference.

I will look forward to the day when the technology reaches the point that those homes on my Droid are all in the right location.

Of course it could be worse, at least most of our houses are not in an area where the land is actually changing.  I love being on the beach, and the Point at Emerald Isle is one of my favorite spots.  Even someone like myself who visits it regularly has a hard time keeping up with the changes from the tides and winds. Sometimes the access road even disappears.

Looking at the aerial photos of the area is a waste of time.  Currently they bear little resemblance to the beach that is actually there.  There is much more land there than indicated in the aerial photo beside the photo that I took last year.

I think I will just enjoy the beaches and save my worry for listings that are misplaced on maps.



Marchel Peterson
Results Realty - Spring, TX
Spring TX Real Estate E-Pro

David, We are in a rapidly growing area but have lived here for 14 years.  There are now streets out of our subdivision that did not exist before.  For the last SEVERAL years I have been buying the Garmen update thinking the roads would be there but they are not there.  I have learned to mute my GPS as I drive the back roads so I don't hear RECALCULATING the whole time.

May 26, 2010 04:35 PM
David Sobotta
WideOpen Networks - Emerald Isle, NC

I have done the same thing.  I also find myself coming up with locations that my car GPS can find which are close the places that I want to go.  It will get better.  One of the new things on my Droid lets me track people with other smartphones if they want to be tracked.  We have done enough of it to know that occasionally it makes mistakes.  This morning it showed me in the middle of the river which might have been possible if it had been a nice day, and I was fishing.  However, it was raining, and I was sitting in my office.

May 26, 2010 04:39 PM
Bryan Watkins
LRA Real Estate Group - Mesa, AZ

Hey David, we live and die by technology- when it works it is very, very good. When it is bad it is horrid. We are always too dependent on everything working together. What if someday if it just quits? ouch, don't want to think about it.

May 26, 2010 05:24 PM
John Pusa
Glendale, CA

David -  I don't thnik, I can function without technology. Very good blog.

May 26, 2010 05:34 PM
Kathryn Gorham
Green Key Realty - Emerald Isle, NC
Emerald Isle NC Crystal Coast

David, Another good post. Technology is where more and more of our industry focus will be occurring. Yet it has it's flaws. Yet it has it's bonuses. Especially with many of the future buyers not in this area.  All of this brings up the real issue is where in the world as realtors do we find time to fine tune all of this?

Jun 03, 2010 02:54 PM