Zillow Zooms in with Microsoft Photos

Hot Internet property Zillow.com has struck a deal with Microsoft to add a new feature to its real estate research site: low-altitude, bird’s-eye views of residential areas.

The images come courtesy of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth platform (which also drives Microsoft’s MapPoint services), and prove views of a home and its surroundings from four directions, enabling potential home buyers to get a better feel for the beighborhood and layout of a property. The images are displayed on Zillow alongside satellite maps, parcel information, estimated home valuations, and home data. Imagery is currently available for selected U.S. metropolitan areas (including Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles) with more coverage to be added during 2006.

Zillow’s co-founder and president Lloyd Frink said “I thought overhead satellite images were fantastic, until I saw the bird’s eye images, which are taken from low-flying planes at an angle which gives remarkable depth. A home shopper’s ability to get a genuine feel for a house and neighborhood has just taken a giant leap forward.”

The images are taken via low-flying airplanes by Microsoft partner Pictometry, and they are indeed compelling, although aspect’s of Zillow’s system may need a little tweaking (viewing images for a selection of known residences in the Seattle and San Francisco areas revealed a few location and photo mis-match gaffes), the photos seem to be relatively recent (some Seattle images seem to be from mid-2005) and high-quality: users can drag, rotate, zoom, and pan the photographs within the bird’s-eye view.

(And, by the way, aircraft and satellite surveillance photography has made me all the more grateful for the enormous, house-obscuring maple out front.)