Many online real estate search engines today are incorporating web based mapping solutions that will map the house you’re viewing down to the street level (check out century21.com for one of the cooler ones). This is an extremely useful tool to help real estate agents and prospective homebuyers create a short list of homes based on the widely accepted, most important attribute of real estate – Location, Location, Location! For the agent, the next logical step to efficiently working this shortlist of homes is to bring that map with you on the road as you search out the perfect house for your client. Today’s laptop mapping applications let you do just that. Computerized laptop mapping lets you plot your own points of interest, including homes to visit, the location of schools, shopping, doctor’s offices and even Grandma’s house. In short, everything that’s critically important to your buyer from a location perspective in their final decision on which home to purchase. Since the mapping software runs on your laptop, you can save a copy of each home’s listing info on your computer, and link the file from electronic ‘pushpins’ on the map that show the home’s location. These ‘offline’ mapping programs have many more analysis tools that allow you to further define the geographic pros and cons to a subject home’s location. Once the list of homes to be visited has been finalized based on the user defined criteria, laptop mapping programs let you create the most efficient route to see your target list. You can even assign start, stop and estimated viewing times to get an accurate estimate of the time you’ll need for the entire trip. Once you’ve developed your route, and are ready to go, you plug a GPS receiver into your laptop – and your computer becomes an in-vehicle navigation device that guides you to each destination with voice prompted turn by turn directions. Of course, you don’t have to be a real estate agent to use the power of laptop mapping software. With many home search sites on the web now offering street addresses, prospective homebuyers can be more in the driver’s seat when it comes to whittling down their dream home short list. However, with the homebuyer doing the upfront research, the real estate agent can still benefit – because an educated buyer can be the real estate agent’s best customer. Let me illustrate how I used an online real estate search service and the offline mapping software package, Microsoft® Streets and Trips to find my current home: Three years ago, my family and I lived in Florida. We were moving to New Hampshire, and had a limited 5 day time window in which to find and make and offer on a home. Prior to our trip, my wife and I reviewed homes online – choosing those that met our general location and other criteria. I then copied the listing information to a Microsoft® Word document, and plotted the exact street level location in Microsoft® Streets and trips, placing an electronic ‘pushpin’ at the home’s location. I then placed a hyperlink in the pushpin’s information balloon that opened the listing document when I clicked it. When it was time to travel to New Hampshire, we had reviewed all the homes that were available to us online – updating the map with new houses and those that had sold right up until the day we got on the airplane. We had a list of 20 homes that we planned to check out. We arrived on a Friday at mid-day. We had scheduled to visit with our real estate agent the next morning at 9:00 am. Once we got the kids settled with friends, my wife and I decide we had enough time to go out and look at a few of the houses. I turned on my laptop, started up the mapping software, plugged in the GPS Receiver and automatically optimized a route for all house locations. I checked the ‘create GPS trail’ box which highlighted each road that we physically drove on – and off we went. That afternoon, we drove by all 20 houses. We were able to knock off 18 of them based on property, neighborhood, and other location related factors. The next day, we showed up at our agent’s office, and she was ready to go. She told us we’d have to hurry because she had three walkthrough’s already scheduled for us – and was working on a fourth. I told her before we started out, we should review the houses first. Slightly flustered because she had a tight schedule to meet, she called up the listings in the MLS and showed us the houses we were to walk through. We had already driven by the first one she had scheduled. She explained how it was a perfect fit for us based on our stated criteria. I said – “Yes – it’s a great house…but there’s a major high-tension power line like 100 feet from the bedrooms”. She thought for a second and said – “Ohhhh…..that’s why it hasn’t sold in over a year!” (it was a hot market). We were able to go through the rest of her picks from the MLS – and though all were great houses that might have been a fit for us based on our home style preferences, the bottom line was that none was acceptable based on their location. The agent brought up a new house that had just listed, and therefore wasn’t plotted on my map. Since I had checked the GPS trail option in Streets and Trips – we were able to confirm that we had already gone by the property and could check it off the list. After we reviewed all the information in the agent’s office, she quickly called off her scheduled walk-throughs, and we focused on the two homes my wife and I had chosen during our Friday afternoon drive. Ultimately, we bought one of those homes. Using Microsoft® Streets and Trips, in conjunction with the online real estate listings benefited everyone involved in our property search. It benefited my family, because mapping out our options gave clarity to our home search that we simply couldn’t have had by looking at a list of homes. The tools empowered us to develop a plan of attack that we were comfortable with – and provided structure to our search that without, would have been overwhelming given the limited time we had on the ground to accomplish the objective. Our use of Streets and Trips helped our real estate agent immensely as well. Rather than wasting her time showing us homes that we wouldn’t have been happy with as soon as we arrived at the address – she was able to concentrate her efforts on the properties that she knew were our best prospects. She also didn’t waste gas driving us around to homes that just didn’t fit the bill. Because our agent spent less time with us in the search process – she was able to devote time to other homebuyers, affording her the opportunity to sell additional homes. Our use of laptop mapping helped the home sellers too. It certainly benefited the people we ended up buying our house from, but helped the other sellers as well (not to mention their real estate agents). It would have been a complete waste of their time to clean up their house, and ‘take a drive’ while our agent showed us a house that just didn’t fit our idea of that most important of real estate attributes. Since my wife and I had just signed a contract on our house in Florida – we had recent experience on what a pain it was to get your house looking just right and then to get out while the walk through was conducted. There are many great tools available today to aid in the search for real estate property. Perhaps one of the most effective tools is computerized laptop mapping with GPS. If you are an agent, you would be well served to incorporate this technology into your sales process. You might consider letting your clients know about it too. They may help you sell even more houses in the coming real estate turn around.