On the weekends one of my favorite non-writing activities is to look at properties. I like seeing what's on the market and dreaming of the day when we can buy a home in the country with some land. And maybe a little lake.
Today's Super Site has to do with that. It's the site for United Country - a nationwide realtor.
UC is searchable several key ways. Looking for ten acres anywhere in the US? Use their national search. Looking for a waterfront property in the Southeast? Try their regional search. Personally, I like browsing rather than searching, and since I already know the areas we'd like to retire to, I can either use their 'By State' search to see what's available in the area or their 'By Office' search to see what each little town has to offer.
But this site is really more than just a place to dream. Think about it terms of setting for your book.
Everyone says write what you know. Well, how does a person who's never been to Texas really know what's there? I guess following the 'Write what you know' advice, that entire state would be out of the running for locale. Unless...
Let's say you want part of your story to be in Nacogdoches. Maybe that's where your heroine grew up before moving to the big city or joining the FBI or whatever. You want your background or flashbacks to be as real as possible, so you click through to the office and you set about finding the house she grew up in. Say, for instance, it was a 347 acre cattle ranch. You find the property, click the link and you've not only got a bit of description, but you've got pictures (and in this case a virtual tour). Now you can see the wood beams over the fireplace - complete with deer antler chandelier. You can picture her as a young girl wandering the open fields, or splashing around in the pond.
Maybe you need to get a better idea of the inside of an old victorian mansion - without having to pester someone for a tour. Use the Nationwide search, filter to show residential, then to show homes in town, then finally to show Victorian. You've got 198 properties to look at, and from them build a house your characters would be proud to live in. (If only I had $1.3 million to buy this beauty.) Or maybe you just need to see what a piece of land in the southwest would look like. Scout out 15K acres in NM or 435 acres in CO. Travel via the internet.
Of course there are plenty of other real estate sites to use as research, but this one seems to be the most comprehensive and the easiest to navigate. Use it in combination with Google Maps or Google Earth and you'll really feel like you were there.
Now, where do I want to go today? Eureka Springs, AR or a tour around Bulls Shoals Lake? Where do you want to go?