Google Street View Can Be A Quandary for Real Estate Sites

Google has done a great job of providing great form to Google Maps with their Street View functionality. I’ve seen this implemented on several different real estate sites and thought it would be great marketing tool for both the buyer and seller. From a buyer’s perspective, they can virtually view a panorama of the exterior surroundings of a property. They can see the neighbor’s homes along the street, the type of road the house is on, and provides them with a recognizable rendition of the area when they physically visit the property. A Seller’s benefit is derived from a great location. Potential buyer’s have a way to view their property online which would compel them to visit their home.

So what is the quandary? What happens when a 1.3 million dollar property is not on a street which has been imaged for Google Street View? It depends on how you have the Google Street View object coded, but for most sites will display a Street View panorama of the next nearest intersection of a street that does have a Street View panorama. This result can be very disturbing to sellers and buyers. In the previous case, the 1.3 million dollar beautiful house has a Google Street View panorama displaying a gas station. The seller is livid because the web site is displaying such a poor image of the property. There is nothing the Broker, the web site, or the Realtor can do to rectify the problem. Google didn’t send their little Volkswagen bug down this one little road with great waterfront properties. Just happens this little street is off a major state highway were the gas station is located.

So what to do?This is a perfect case for the argument on why form needs to follow functionality. The functional reality of this case is to ensure the property street address does have a panorama available from Google Street View. I believe the GStreetviewClient object will allow to test for this a return a true or false result, but maybe someone can shed some light. See Update Below.

Here is the logic to functionally make this form work for the consumer. If a panorama for Street View of the property is not available, then display the standard Google Maps. If a panorama for the property does exist, then display the Street View. This is one way around this little challenge. If there is anyone out there who knows more about the Google Street View objects in the Maps API or who has a better solution, please let us know.

Another major challenge is the Point of View (POV). I’ve had several Realtor’s inform me of when the Street View panorama does display, it doesn’t show the sellers property, but the property across the street. Unfortunately, I have not found a  programmatic method to resolve this situation. What I have read in Google Groups, there have been inconsistency’s on how the Google Volkswagen documented their direction during the shooting of the images. This means, if you did know your home was on the south side of the street and programmed the API properly, there is a good chance Google Street View will still not display your home. This has been the ire of several sellers who have complained about this challenge.

This scenario is how form was put forth without consideration to functionality for real estate sites. I think Google Street View is a great tool, but it’s lack consistency as a business application and needs to be further evaluated before putting into practice. The form, displaying a panoramic view of a geographic location, has serious flaws to the functionality of sellers having their home properly represented and of buyers understanding the first image they view may not be the property they found.

Explaining all this technology to people who want to sell and buy homes is daunting and they really don’t want to hear about the causes. This is why it is important to look at all the functional possibilities an online consumer will experience before you put form into action. Just because it looks cool, if it doesn’t work, they will not come back. Look at the DeLorean Motor Company.

As far as using Street View on a real estate site, the jury is still out. Until there is a method available to check for Street View availability based on lat/long, the consequences of a irritated seller or buyer can be devastating. I’ve seen it already. If someone has a solution, please comment.

Our solution was to disable Street View for this specific listing. This will only be active until Google either images the street or provides an object to validate the availability of Street View for a property.


UPDATE: Jan 6, 2009:
Some times you need to go straight to a professional to get your answers. I explained the situation with Street View to my developer and he came up with a great solution. In your function, make an object call with GStreetViewPanorama and then listen for an error. If you receive an error code 600, it means Street View is not available for the lat/long provided in the call. You can now build your logic to ensure either the Google Map or Street View is displayed for each listing property based on images available from Google. Now if we can only have some confidence on the POV.