Palo Alto: Virtual Drive-Bys

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Palo Alto house hunters may appreciate a new innovation from Google, called “Street View.” It allows you to enter an address into Google maps, and call up street-view panoramas of most San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Denver, Miami, and Silicon Valley neighborhoods. (A similar capability will be integrated into the Redfin site in the near future.)

Using a van-mounted camera, Google will be driving up and down streets near you, documenting everything. And as you might imagine, privacy advocates are up in arms. It’s an eerie reminder of the omnipresence of cameras in our cellphones, on our buildings, and in outer space. Big Brother is watching.

But the upside of this new capability is that it allows house hunters to preview property attributes that may have been artfully cropped out of realtor photos. You’ll able to check out the immediate neighborhood around a new listing without getting in a car.

Street View is also a useful tool when there are no MLS photos available for a given property, such as this recently sold listing in Palo Alto:

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(The blurred image of a Volvo station wagon in the foreground is especially apropos, given that it’s the Unofficial Vehicle of the Palo Alto Soccer Mom.)

To learn how to use this new feature, you can watch this rather silly Google tutorial.