One Weird Trick

When I first started investing in land – I found that one of the most surprisingly common obstacles to get over 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 (after all, isn’t that what we have Google Maps for?) – but if you’re a land investor, you probably know what I’m talking about. When I first started looking for vacant land properties, it was VERY common for people to call me, trying to sell their land, but their property didn’t even have a physical mailing address.

No street name. No address number. Nothing.

So where did this leave me? If I couldn’t plug a street address into a mapping service like Google Mapshow the heck was I supposed to locate the property?? This was a serious obstacle! If I couldn’t find where a property was located, what it looked like, the shape of the parcel, the size of the property and what it’s surroundings were – it was nearly impossible to determine what it was worth and how much to offer.

I eventually learned that there is always an answer to this problem. It was just a matter of whether I knew where to find it.

AgentPro247 Aerial Maps

In most cases, it was pretty easy for me to find the size, shape & location of each property with a service like AgentPro247.

Check out this tutorial video I put together a couple of years ago – it gives a decent overview of how it’s done:

The problem with AgentPro247 was that every once in a while, the information wasn’t right.

For one reason or another – the system just wasn’t always able to find a sensible answer from the public records, so it just gave me a non-answer (or the wrong answer altogether). I could usually tell when the system got confused – because it would drop the little red pin on a property that clearly wasn’t the right one.

Now don’t get me wrong, these kinds of user-friendly services were usually a HUGE help and they saved me a lot of time and frustration – but was I supposed to do when I still couldn’t find the right answer?

Luckily, with a little bit of research at the county level, I found an even more reliable source for this information…

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 when you have no other options).

This information tends to be more reliable than any third-party mapping systems – and it will provide additional 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.

Here’s an example of how it works:

Like I said – every county has a slightly different system. 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, you can still use these systems to your benefit if you have the patience to figure it out.

Google Earth KML Files and 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, which 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 the 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.

Why Is This Important?

Think about it… if you have a hard time finding this property in the first place, 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 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 it into their GPS and drive right to it.

With these kinds of parcel maps and instructions – people rarely have trouble finding 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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