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When I started investing in land, one of the most common hassles was locating each property.
It may sound like a weird problem to a conventional home buyer because it's not hard to locate a house. Just plug the address into Google Maps, and you'll find it in seconds.
However, when you're dealing with raw land, many vacant lots don't have a physical address.
No street name. No address number. Nothing.
If you can't plug in a street address, how do you figure out where the property is? And, more importantly, how can you know where the boundaries are?
This was a big obstacle for me because when I didn't know the shape and size of the parcel and what its surroundings looked like, it was impossible to determine what it was worth and how much I could offer for it!
Online Mapping Resources
Luckily, in most markets, there are different places we can turn 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 started investing in the land business, this information was much harder to obtain, but as the years have gone by, it's gotten much easier to get this information.
Data Services (Paid)
Services like 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.
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 (Free)
The vast majority of counties in the U.S. have a Geographic Information System (“GIS” for short). These systems usually aren’t user-friendly, 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 comes directly from the source, and you can find data such as:
- Property Sizes
- Property Dimensions
- Property Ownership
- Precise Property Locations
- Property Assessed Values
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 worth the trouble to figure it out.
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.
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.
Another easy way to do this kind of research is with MapRight, which does a great job of pulling in a lot of mapping data from various places and condensing it into a consistent, easy-to-use web app.
MapRight also has a decent mobile app that can help others find directions to your property and handle some of these functions from your phone or tablet.
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). 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!