Technology Trends in Real Estate
An Overview from Real Estate Connect SF 2010

The 2010 Inman Real Estate Connect Conference brought together leaders in real estate mapping, trends and location technology. Among them was Digital Map Products' President and CEO Jim Skurzynski, who has more than twenty years experience with spatial technology and mapping companies. Skurzynski said he was excited to hear participants finally acknowledge that real estate mapping is now a basic tool for all real estate agents, companies and even consumers. Following the conference, Skurzynski answered questions about the key trends he heard discussed at the conference including the future of real estate technology, the evolving role of real estate agents, new technologies like Foursquare and how spatial technology is being used to enhance the understanding and value of real estate information.

You recently attended Real Estate Connect SF 2010. What were the hot topics you heard people discussing?
The big buzz everywhere was that people finally "get " that mapping is here to stay in the real estate arena. It's kind of funny for someone like me who has been working with data in spatial (or map) format for a decade. At Digital Map Products, we have gotten used to thinking in maps. Well, now most forward-thinkers in the real estate world have finally caught on that mapping is not a flash-in-the-pan trend but a new core business tool for them. Thanks to Google and Bing Maps , it's now easy to add maps to any online real estate application and as that happens consumers are advancing their map skills. In past years, it's seemed the real estate industry was overwhelmed by this new technology. What's exciting now is that the industry is starting to understand it and embrace it and is hungry for more knowledge about how to use it.

Once real estate sites bring their data to maps, can they stop worrying about spatial technology and move on?
Unfortunately, consumers continue to request spatial technology and the more they use it the more they want. What the real estate sites and MLS's want to do now is attract those consumers – potential buyers and sellers – to their sites. And to do that, they need to have better spatial technology than their competitors. Right now that means adding interactivity to their maps. I buy real estate and I like using online sites to get started. But I want to see more than just a point on a map where there is property for sale. I want to see other layers of data like the exact parcel boundaries, neighborhoods, school locations, and even local price trends. I want as much data as I can get about the area. I'm going to go to the site that gives me the most information.

If a real estate site is looking to stay competitive, what do they need to be doing now?
Like I said, there's a lot of data out there and the race now is to get it onto your site. The layers of data you can add are increasing daily as people see the possibilities. Part of the reason you need data is because people also want to be able to use the data to ask and answer their own questions. That means the interface with your map needs to be as easy to understand as possible. People don't want to see GIS language; they want to be able to look at a map and its interface and intuitively know how to get their own answers.

Does all of this mean real estate agents won't be necessary in the future?
I don't think so at all. But I do think their roles will need to change. With real estate information on the Internet for anyone to see, any buyer can easily find out which houses are for sale. Where the agent will help them is in understanding local information such as the neighborhood, the school district and the amenities around that property. Even more importantly, agents need intimate knowledge of home sales trends and pricing strategies to successfully fill their new role as trusted advisors. To do this, agents need to use the technology themselves to get out ahead of consumers and spot trends. They should be using the technology that's out there today to identify the neighborhoods that are just starting to take off. As trusted advisors they must understand the nuances of local pricing, housing demand and future growth potential. They can help the consumer quickly familiarize themselves with key characteristics of a neighborhood, i.e. schools, local hangouts, and even parks and outdoor attractions.

There's a lot of interest right now in location technology like Foursquare, Yelp and Yahoo local. How does this trend affect the real estate industry?
Local, local and hyperlocal. The foundation of your map needs to be the most local data available. People think about their communities as neighborhoods, not zip codes, so give them a neighborhood layer. Show them schools, crime and local amenities. Show them what restaurants they could walk to from a property. You can gather this kind of data in all sorts of new ways, with Yelp, social networking streams, local news and other sources popping up daily. Consumers are getting smarter. They want to self-educate and see trends. Sites need tools that allow consumers to analyze data.

Another key topic at the conference was the importance of mobile technology. What do you think real estate technology users need to know about mobile applications?
Mobile is clearly an important real estate offering and is useful to consumers, however, it doesn't have to be a separate technology from what they are building now. What they want to avoid is an application that was developed for a desktop environment. Instead, they should look for applications like ours that have always been web-based. And we've continued to make our products more mobile-friendly. For example, we are working on a prototype of our LandVision™ product that can be used with the iPad.

There was also a lot of talk about the cloud at the conference. What does that mean to real estate technology users?
Last year, at the same conference, people were asking if they should be moving to the cloud. This year, they have already made the mind shift to understanding they must move to the cloud. The most forward-thinking folks now realize if they don't have an API, they are behind the eight ball. We see even the most traditional desktop technologies like ERSI moving to the cloud, and Google is predicting that virtually all meaningful innovation in applications over the next 10 years will happen in the cloud. In the real estate spatial technology arena, the benefits of cloud computing are huge. Beyond the obvious cost savings, the cloud increases flexibility, speed to market and usability.

Obviously, you wanted to hear what people had to say at the conference, but you also wanted them to know more about Digital Map Products. What is the main idea you hope they took away from your presentation on mapping technology trends?
Real estate sites and organizations have vastly more tools for spatial technology than ever before. Before the market went bad, we saw a lot of companies building their own spatial solutions from scratch. This afforded them power and customization, but significantly slowed down the development process and limited their ability to make changes to their maps down the road. As the industry rebounds, spatial technology providers like Digital Map Products are offering real estate sites more options. We now have finished spatial products companies can buy and we also offer a preconfigured spatial platform where they can develop their own applications on a web-based platform. We think that's what most organizations need to stay competitive and to be able to quickly respond to the emerging location-based data that comes out.

There's no questioning that advances in technology are transforming the real estate industry. The key trends shared by Digital Map Products' President and CEO Jim Skurzynski highlight the ways in which spatial technology is becoming critical to extracting and realizing the fullest value from real estate information.

For media inquiries
For more information about the future of spatial technology, contact:

  • Mary Jo Draper
    Draper Communications for Digital Map Products
    816-753-4429 (office)
    816-516-2446 (cell)
    press@digmap.com