One Weird Trick

When I started investing in land – I found that one of the most surprisingly common obstacles to overcome was that it was really hard to locate some of these properties.

It may sound like a weird problem to most conventional investors because it's not hard to plug in a property address on Google Maps to find it in seconds.

However, it's very common for a property not even to have a physical address if you're a land investor.

No street name. No address number. Nothing.

So, where does this leave us?

If we can't plug in a street address, how are we supposed to find these properties and understand where the boundaries are?

This can be a serious obstacle because without knowing a property's location, what it looks like, the shape and size of the parcel, and what its surroundings look like – it will be very difficult to determine what it's worth and how much to offer.

Online Mapping Resources

Luckily, in most markets, there are several different places we can go to find parcel maps for vacant land properties. Some of these options are free, and some of them require a subscription of some kind.

When I first started investing in the land business, this information was much harder to obtain, but as the years go by, it's gotten easier and easier to get the new information.

I'll show you a few ways to do it below.

Data Services

Services like DataTree and PropStream can be used to look up properties in most areas of the U.S. and find parcel maps.

You can see how it works in DataTree here.

Get the DataTree Discount!

Even with how convenient DataTree is, it isn't perfect. There will be some counties where the parcel maps either aren't quite right, or the information isn't even available.

Luckily, there is usually another reliable fallback option if you can find the county's GIS mapping system online.

GIS Mapping Systems

The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have a Geographic Information System (“GIS” for short). These systems usually aren’t user-friendly to work with, but if you care enough to learn how it works in each county you’re working in, you’ll find that it can be a MAJOR help (especially if you have no other options).

This information tends to be more reliable than any third-party mapping system because it's coming directly from the source, and you can find data such as:

  • Property Sizes
  • Property Dimensions
  • Property Ownership
  • Precise Property Locations
  • Property Assessed Values
  • Etc…

Each county’s system is a little bit different and takes some time to figure out – but when you’re not able to get any answers, and you’re still unsure about where your property is located, it is absolutely worth the trouble to figure it out.

Like I said, every county has a slightly different system; some don't have any system available online.

Some of these systems run on great software, making the job relatively easy. Other systems are running on some pretty old, sluggish software – but even so, in many cases, you can still use these systems to your benefit if you have the patience to figure it out.

To see if there's one in your area, you can do a google search for something like:

<<County>> <<State>> and “GIS map”

…and if anything exists, you'll usually be able to find it on the first page.

Google Earth Parcel Overlays

If you’re willing to pay for an easier, more comprehensive solution for locating the parcel you’re looking at – there’s another service called Parlay 2.0 that works in conjunction with Google Earth, and it could provide exactly what you’re looking for.

This video explains how it works…

Parlay imports data from thousands of counties across the U.S. Most notably, it will show you parcel lines, and owner information (including mailing addresses). In some cases, it will show you transfer values, market values, acreage, and much more. It’s a SUPER helpful tool that is easy to justify if you need this information on a somewhat regular basis like I do.

The only downside to Parlay is that you won't be able to search for the property based on the owner's name or address. You'll have to know the GPS coordinates first (or even the address of another property nearby), and THEN you can find your subject property to evaluate it further.

Why Is This Important?

If you have a hard time finding your subject property, your buyers will probably struggle too, and they don’t have to struggle if you can give them some easy answers.

It's a pretty regular thing when my buyers ask me:

  • How do I find this property?
  • Is there a “For Sale” sign on-site?
  • Are there any stakes in the ground?
  • Are there any other markings on the property so I’ll know where it is?

When I get these very reasonable questions, I simply tell them:

“There are no signs or markings on the property BUT, you can print off these high-resolution parcel maps and take them out to the site with you. These should give you a very good indication as to when you’re standing on the actual property.”

I might also give them the address of the property next door (which I can find quite easily with the county’s GIS mapping system). This way, they can plug that address into their GPS and drive right to it.

With these kinds of parcel maps and instructions, people can almost always find where the property is located. So the next time you go through the trouble of finding your property with your county’s GIS mapping system, save some pictures for future reference!

About the author

Seth Williams is the Founder of REtipster.com - an online community that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.

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