Google Your Next Home: Using Google Earth to Find Real Estate

By: Joe Pinto

Google Earth is one of those cool little tools that, for many, has no use except for "visiting" places they used to live or have visited before. However this free tool can be immensely helpful when looking for your next home.

Many people have enjoyed looking for their houses and potential houses on Google Maps. Google Earth offers another feature: terrain. For people who don't want to walk or bike up and down hills to access shops or local amenities, this can be important. For seniors, who may have difficulty negotiating hilly terrain, this can be a necessity.

With a click of a button, Google Earth can allow you a limited 3-D view of the house you are considering. You can then view the relative terrain in the area surrounding the house and of any major thoroughfares. Google Earth can also map the driving distance between your potential residence and favorite destinations.

Another advantage of Google Earth is that it is privy to the same information as Google Maps. If you are looking for certain amenities near the property you are considering, Google Earth will list the ones that it knows of and can be used to search for more.

Currently, the main issue with searching real estate with Google Earth is the limited nature of the listings. It is not designed as a global real estate search engine; every company/individual who wants their listings seen on Google Earth has to create a file with them on it. It is often best to search Google for real estate in the location you desire and then check to see if the company/individual is working with Google Earth.

These files have a .kml extension. KML means "Keyhole Markup Language" after the company Keyhole, Inc. Sometimes you will find .kmz file extensions which are merely .kml extensions that are zipped, due to the heavy information load that a .kml file can carry. You will need an extractor program to release these files.

In order to access these files, you have to download and install the Google Earth. Then, download and open a .kml file. When you're downloading, a little window should pop up asking if you want to open it with Google Earth. Say yes. If it doesn't ask you if it can open it with Google Earth, head over to that little box and tell it to use Google Earth.

Once your file is open in the program, check it out. You may have to zoom in to see all the listings (usually in the shape of houses), but once you get the hang of it, Google Earth is really easy to use. Play around with it. See what you can do with the toolbar. If you are interested in a property that you can't find in a Google Earth file, you can enter in the address and enjoy a cool flying sensation as the globe turns and you whoosh in to hover over your destination.

One thing that I have found with Google Earth is that it is not always the best way to determine property size and the state of the building. Sites that appeared to have a decent sized lot from above turned out to be little postage-stamp places with barely enough room to squeeze through the gate! Google Earth is only the beginning; once you find a home to buy, definitely do the legwork of going to see it or getting someone to take photos that show you the entire property.

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