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A new service from Zillow allows users to chat with Facebook friends about neighborhoods

One of the most important aspects of buying a new home is knowing the particulars of the neighborhood. Ask any real estate agent, and they will tell you that home buyers always want to know about schools, crime, transit and nearby restaurants.

As one of the largest online real estate companies in the U.S., Zillow knows this better than most.

Today, Zillow is announcing a new service called Neighborhood Advice that identifies Facebook friends who live or frequent certain neighborhoods that a home buyer can tap for advice.

The Seattle company has flirted with the concept before. (I first wrote about Zillow’s plans to develop “neighborhood pages” back in 2007, a service that has morphed and changed but is still available on the site today).

This time, instead of building out its own network of contributors, Zillow plans to utilize the power of Facebook. (Probably a smart move given that Facebook now has more than 800 million registered users).

Like the Neighborhood Advice name suggests, the new service from Zillow offers a way for would-be home buyers to find their Facebook friends and ask what they think of neighborhood activities or amenities.

The new service integrates with Facebook Connect, and displays a national map where friends hang out based on check-ins, hometown listings, city or neighborhood information.

Friends who have identified as living in Ballard or West Seattle, for example, will be displayed to the Zillow user as they narrow their geographic search. Home shoppers can then send friends a private direct message on Facebook to ask questions about the neighborhood.

“Integrating social media tools and friend networks into the core Zillow home-shopping experience is yet another way we are giving our users access to previously hard-to-find, yet sought-after, information,” said Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff in a statement.

Zillow spokeswoman Cynthia Nowak said that no address information is disclosed as part of the offering.

“Neighborhood Advice only surfaces what you have in your Facebook profile with your friends – hometown or current city, who are already able to access this information on Facebook as part of your friend network,” she said. “Also, it doesn’t share the specific locations of where people have checked-in, just the neighborhood.”

Drilling down into neighborhood information has been a fascinating of Zillow Chairman Rich Barton for some time. And last year Barton emerged as a backer of San Francisco upstart Nextdoor, which is attempting to create an online destination where neighbors can gather to discuss crime, exchange gardening tools or find a pet sitter.

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