One Weird Trick

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

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

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

No street name. No address number. Nothing.

So where does this leave us?

If we can’t plug in a street address, how the heck 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.

Back when I first started investing in the land business, this information was much harder to obtain, but as the years go by, it’s getting easier and easier to get the information new need.

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

Data Services

Services like AgentPro247 and DataTree 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.

Want to check out DataTree? Get discounted pricing when you go through this signup page.

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’re able to find the county’s GIS mapping system online.

GIS Mapping Systems

The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have what’s called a Geographic Information System (“GIS” for short). These systems usually aren’t user-friendly to work with, but if you care enough to go through the trouble of learning 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 systems 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, and some of them don’t have any system available online.

Some of these systems are running on some great software that makes 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 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. and most notably, it will show you parcel lines, owner information (including mailing addresses) and in some cases, it will show you transfer values, market values, acreage and a lot 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 are probably going to 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 are almost always able to 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 – be sure to save some pictures for future reference!

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About the author

Seth Williams is a land investor with hundreds of closed transactions and nearly a decade of experience in the commercial real estate banking industry. He is also the Founder of - a real estate investing blog that offers real-world guidance for part-time real estate investors.

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  1. Travis Parker says:

    Good tip. I’ve been using the GIS site, didn’t think about using the hybrid version to show lot lines as well as topography. THANKS – just added that to the regular map I have for a Listing.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Awesome! I’m glad I was able to offer some new ideas for you Travis.

      I think I’m still learning new things about these systems every time I use them (probably because the answers aren’t abundantly obvious at first glance and it just takes some time to figure it all out).

  2. Sonya says:

    Hi Seth, I am really enjoying your website and the info you are providing. I am very interested in the idea of investing in land. I have read your articles on this topic however as someone who is very new to this area of real estate where would you suggest I start to begin the learning process?

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Sonya, that’s awesome! I’m glad you’re seeing some of the huge opportunity that lies in land investing (it seriously is a big deal). There are a couple of blog posts right here on the site that you might find helpful:

  3. Denise Butcher says:

    I stumbled across your site while looking for a way to conduct my own property search. We bought a property from a relative and got the Deed in our name and assured it was registered with the city’s dept of records and wanted to start rehabbing. When we applied for Title Insurance we learned that the property we paid for was not free and clear. Now all of our plans have come to a screeching halt. We want to do our own Title search to see how this process workd. In addition, now the person who sold us the property is elderly and the other names on the title are of the sellers kin which are older and senile and may not have the cognitive ability to see this through. Sigh!

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Denise, I’m sorry to hear about your troubles – what a pain! If you need some pointers on how to do a title search, you might want to check out this post:

      Have you considered doing a quiet title action? I’ve never done one myself (and it’ll take some time and money) but from what I know about it, that might be able to solve the issue you’re dealing with.

      Good luck!

  4. bobby denney says:

    I’m still having a hard time finding properties using the gis please email me and help thanks.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hi Bobby – some counties don’t have very good GIS systems available to the public, and you may have to call their office and request the actual plat map (or ask them for further instruction on how to use their GIS system). It’s a hassle when these situations come up, but it’s still worth the effort if it’s the only missing piece that will allow you to get the deal done.

  5. Genevieve Encinas says:

    Want to know how to find out the value of property ( land) in Lucerne ca.

    1. Seth Williams says:

      Hey Genevieve! Check out this blog post, you may find it helpful with that:

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