Just a few weeks ago I was searching some real estate listings and it struck me how poor the mapping experience was. It is still very much a "web 1.0" experience. Everything on the page is static. Mapping tools have come a long way in the past few years. It is about time that someone take that technology into the real estate space. It appears that John L. Scott--a real estate company in the Northwestern U.S.--has done just that. It is the first real estate page I've seen utilize "web 2.0" maps.
Several years back online real estate search systems added mapping. At first you only got a high-level view which couldn't be changed. For a while now you've been able to zoom in and scroll around. After using Virtual Earth for a while now, however, the old interface feels very constraining. The zooming and scrolling present in most real estate portals is similar to that provided by MapQuest. You have to click on buttons to zoom and to scroll and these actions are thus much less organic. It is much more natural to use the scroll wheel to zoom and to scroll around by clicking and dragging.
Yesterday morning my wife IM'd me and told me that John L. Scott was using Virtual Earth. Indeed they are and it is such a big improvement, I can't imagine using anything else. Not only can I zoom and scroll without reloading the whole page and through a natural interface, but I can also get an aerial view. Even better, when there is a bird's-eye view available, that too is offered. Imagine being able to see a close-up perspective view of your potential new house. This is so far from the line-drawn map view of old. In my mind at least, this differentiates them from their competition by a substantial margin.
(For the record, I have no affiliation with John L. Scott.)