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Real-World Selling and “Seeing” Tools
“Google Earth is an exciting tool,” says Randy Hertz of Hertz Real Estate Services and Hertz Farm Management in Nevada, Iowa.

“Having access to mapping, aerial images and GIS software is important to analyzing and communicating about land,” he says.

But Google Earth isn’t the only technology Hertz uses in his real estate business.

“Another web application we use is Agri-Data ( It has some similar data to Google Earth, but moves on to allow us to pick a field, draw a soil map from digital soil data they have available, and look at several years of aerial imagery and topographical maps.

“It also lets us export the GIS outline of the farmland,” he adds, “and import into other GIS software, on our own soil database.”

Augmented Reality: The Next Big Thing?
Freed is bullish about the future of housing related technology. He’s currently looking at the impact of another game-changer: augmented reality. With augmented reality, a direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment is augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. One of the most widely known examples is also among the simplest: the yellow “first down” line seen during television football broadcasts.

Examples of non-architectural or building trade uses include Golfscape GPS Rangefinder, an app that displays the distance from the front, center, and back of the green; travel related apps such as New York Nearest Places, and Snap-Shop Showroom, an application that lets the user “place” a “piece” snipped from an online catalogue into an image of their own room before they purchase it.

There’s even an app that tags the location of your car in a parking lot to help you find your way back to it.

“All of these things basically work the same way: You look through your smart phone, and the program overlays data and information on top of what you’re viewing,” Freed says. “So potentially, I could walk around a job site and already see elements in place, in their environment, as they are being created.

“With an augmented reality app you could overlay a CAD model onto a real project, do it in real time and position it perfectly—just like your imagination would, but much, much better” he says. “The only problem is the tool to do that just doesn’t exist yet.”

Time Savers for Remodelers
When it comes to remodels, often one of the most time-consuming parts of the process is getting an accurate survey of the existing structure.

“In the old days, an intern and I spent hours–and sometimes an entire day–measuring and sketching, essentially melding the structures dimensions onto a draft paper pad, and then we’d go back to the office and somebody else would then painstakingly put that into a CAD program,” Freed says.

But here, too, innovation has created an easy-to-access workaround: Outside firms that will laser scan an existing structure and deliver an “as-built” drawing to the architect and/or building team.

“The result is a lot less time intensive and cheaper than if I had my staff do the work, and best of all, it’s super accurate,” Freed says.

Most of the work is performed by sophisticated software and algorithms that render the drawing as the laser scans building surfaces, then delivering the “as-built” to the architect via email or ftp site.

Freed says the laser-based technology is particularly useful when it comes to historical homes and buildings, where sophisticated moulding may run along an inaccessibly high ceiling.

“Those kinds of elements are real difficult to recreate or draw,” he says. “But with a laser scanner, you can literally set something up on a tripod on the floor, and get any level of detail you need– you can even get it in 3D.”

Another tool Freed leans on extensively is a FLIR thermal camera.

“It’s a great tool for seeing where insulation is either missing or damaged, or where heat is leaking out of the building envelope,” he says. “With FLIR, we can precisely target areas and tear open only the sections of the walls we need to. That’s pretty cool.”

A Thousand Words
While most of us embrace the latest software and technology as a time-, energy-, or cost-saver, Erin Rae Hoffer, director of industry strategy at Autodesk, believes much of it plays an even more important role: communicating intentions. “The issue that often arises with clients is that they haven’t been trained in the same courses that a designer or an engineer has taken,” Hoffer says.

“But if you can show them a computer model that allows them to almost walk through the project,” she continues, “then you really have something. You can have a meaningful give and take between everyone involved in a project, including the homeowners.”

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