Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google Earth - An Essential Tool

I have to admit to having a strange addiction - and that is maps. I find them absolutely fascinating. For any female reading this, it's a guy thing. I have noticed that women in the main have no interest in, or in many instances, not even any comprehension of, maps. To all of the women I have known well, it's just a bunch of lines on a piece of paper.

Anyway, such is my love of maps that I have been bugging our tech people for the past two months to upgrade the maps on Propertastic! Up until yesterday, we were just using the boring old maps that we stole from the CIA World Factbook - the same as most overseas property sites.

But yesterday was like Christmas come early for me as they finally replaced all those boring old static maps with super new, state-of-the-art interactive Google Maps. I'm so happy - they're just so darned cool! Even our tech chief who was moaning about the amount of time the programmers needed to set them up had to admit that they do look incredibly smart. I'm really surprised that none of our competitors are using them (yet) as they really make researching a market a whole lot easier.

As cool as they are though, they still can't compare with a cartographic-crazed junkie like me is already hooked on the hard stuff, and that's Google Earth - a downloadable application that puts the whole world on your desktop (well as long as you have a good and fast internet connection anyway).

Anyone who is serious about international property really needs to get Google Earth on their PC as it is an essential tool for anyone researching potential purchases overseas.

The level of detail that you get with Google Earth is quite staggering and it is the perfect way to investigate an area when you are looking to see what the location is like. When asking for details on a property that you are thinking of buying, you should always ask your agent either for a Google Earth screenshot or the map reference so you can check it out yourself.

The standard overhead view can give you a lot of information, but what is even more revealing is if you have the Panoramio photo feature switched on. This gives real photos uploaded onto the site by Average Joes and shows the views from ground level, so you can really get an excellent feel for a place. OK, so tourists will tend to focus on the more photogenic aspects of a place rather than a trash-filled alleyway behind your dream property, but it's a start at least.

Of course, in some of the fast-growing property hotspots, you could very well find that Google Earth is quite out of date. The date of the satellite sweeps seems to vary a lot. I was very surprised as to how recent the images of Hurghada were when I was compiling Propertastic's Complete Guide to Hurghada Property and Egypt's Red Sea Real Estate. What I saw on Google Earth seemed identical to what I had just seen myself just a few weeks earlier.

Conversely, however, the Google Earth images of my native Stratford-upon-Avon look to be the best part of a decade old already. It's a shame that they don't have date stamps on each of the satellite segments, but you can't have everything in life, I suppose.

Anyway, to sum up, checking out a property's location on Google Earth should be one of the starting points for anyone who is seriously considering making a purchase. It certainly should not be a replacement for getting out there and seeing it with your own eyes - anyone who buys a property without seeing it is just asking for trouble - but seeing something on Google Earth could provide you with enough information alone to discount a potential purchase - potentially saving you a great deal of wasted time and money in heading off to far distant shores to see somewhere that is completely and utter unsuitable for your purposes.

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