Checking Surrounding Environment with Satellite Data
App for Real Estate Industry

A must-have application for real estate agents to check the surroundings of a property using satellite imagery without having to visit the site in person.

This article can be read in about 11 minute.

  • The map made by Zenrin is an essential tool for real estate agents.
  • Printed maps are being replaced by digital maps; satellite view is also available.
  • Challenges using satellite imagery are revealed.

In recent years, space technology has been applied to various areas of business. Even in areas that had no apparent connection to outer space, new ideas based on space technology have been creating new business value. Against this backdrop of increasingly widespread space-oriented businesses, Zenrin Co., Ltd. has been using satellite imagery to offer a service for those in the real estate industry.

Zenrin has deep ties to the real estate industry and offers an application called "ZENRIN GIS Package for Real Estate" for realtors (real estate brokers). This service allows the user to view seven different land-related content elements at once, including a residential map and a "blue map" (that the realtor can use to quickly look up registered "lot numbers" by home address) that are critical for the real estate business. When the application was upgraded in 2015, one of the new features used satellite imagery. Here is what we learned in our interview with Zenrin Co., Ltd. about the service.

The company first started using satellite imagery to meet the needs of users. Maps with only text and symbols do not provide clear information about the surrounding areas of a property, such as grass land or vegetation area. Real estate agents wanted to know more about the specifics from the map.

It took about two years to bring this service to market, as it involved negotiating the rights for the commercial use of satellite imagery and completing content-based image processing.

Use of imagery posed difficulties on several fronts. One in particular, finding the imagery that fits certain criteria, was not easy. Currently, the "ZENRIN GIS Package for Real Estate" uses images created from data captured by observation sensors on DigitalGlobe's commercial observation satellites. Having up-to-date information about the surrounding environment is essential for real estate business services, so it is critical to publish the date when the image was captured. Zenrin chose DigitalGlobe's images because they showed dates of data acquisition.

Another challenge was how to market this new service. Behind the concept of this service was the hope that more local realtors would adopt digital data. [Despite the concern of Zenrin] it turns out sales have been growing steadily since the launch of the product, and the awareness of this service is increasing among realtors, especially younger realtors.

In the future, Zenrin hopes to use satellite data to address more pains of users. Meanwhile, Zenrin learned a lesson in using satellite data for commercial applications. That was time-to-market.

Using satellite data for commercial purposes requires license negotiation with the company that owns the right to the data. This negotiation takes time. As a result, establishing a viable business based on satellite imagery often takes awhile. In many cases services cannot be launched timely when satellite data are required. In the future, an environment in which satellite data is readily available for use in Japan will be desired.

"I think it is great for real estate agents and urban developers to be able to have a bird's eye view of the city. If commercial use of satellite data has less friction, speed of business should improve," says Zenrin.

While facing the challenges of cost and business agility, Zenrin has successfully developed a product that fits user needs. Our own house-hunting and selection of a city to live in may be supported by Zenrin's technology.

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