Geographic Information System (GIS) Definition

What Is a Geographic Information System (GIS)?

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer system that combines geographic data with attribute data. A GIS captures, displays, and records this data in various ways.

What Is a Geographic Information System Used For?

GIS topography

A geographic information system is used to manage, analyze, and display geographic data in many ways. For example, real estate investors use GIS applications to find and analyze “layers” of interest, such as flood zones, wetland areas, topography, parcel maps, opportunity zones, and more.

These applications are also helpful in interpreting patterns and trends in geographic and spatial data. Using data from a GIS, such an application can process location information, such as latitude and longitude, and compare and contrast this data with key demographic indicators like population and income.

The totality of GIS comprises hardware, data, and personnel, plus the software that can interface with human operators[1]. An example of a GIS-powered application is a navigation and map app, such as Google Earth.

Specific uses of this system include:

  • Environmental protection and conservation
  • Health services
  • Emergency response services
  • Agricultural research
  • Marketing
  • Navigation
  • Medical missions
  • Crime prevention
  • Astronomy[2]
  • Real estate

For consumers and users, GIS also allows them to compare and manipulate spatial data. For example, GIS-powered mobile apps can be used for navigation, whether by land or sea, while real estate investors can use it to find at-risk land, such as those near flood plains or wetlands.

RELATED: 10 Google Earth Hacks Every Real Estate Professional Should Know

GIS in Real Estate

In an industry where up-to-date information is required to analyze land, GIS offers tools that used to be accessible only to county and state governments, such as property boundaries, zoning, and geographic features. In turn, this data is handy for real estate developers, investors, brokers, and property owners.

How Real Estate Professionals Use GIS

GIS can be used in a variety of ways to benefit investors and other professionals working in the real estate industry. For example, it is useful for:

  1. Due diligence – An investor or a lender can use a GIS to do the physical side of due diligence, i.e., investigating the physical aspects of a particular property in a specific area[3]. A GIS can help individuals research comparable sales, appraisals, physical surveys (including photos), septic systems, perc tests, and others.
  2. Population density – GIS can determine which areas in a specific region are densely populated. GIS-powered apps show population density in a given region, including current population and in- and out-migration rates. This can help developers decide if the location is ideal for property development.
  3. Topography – A GIS tool can show a certain area’s physical features, both natural and artificial, with a detailed description of each. This can make it easier for developers to create a master plan that suits the area’s topography.
  4. Risk mapping – A GIS can present land and land development in the area, which can help investors and buyers avoid problematic land, such as those at risk of flooding, prone to earthquakes, no road access, etc.
  5. Location analysis – For developers and investors, determining land use can be crucial. For example, land use may be residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural, depending on state and county regulations. Some vacant land may also have certain restrictions, like building height, which a GIS can display.


A GIS is a combination of hardware, software, data, and personnel that allows a user to access information related to the Earth’s surface. This data can be overlaid with additional attributes, called “layers,” that offer the user the information they need for a certain area. Among its uses, it can be used for navigation, marketing, research, and real estate.

Real estate investors, developers, lenders, and buyers use a GIS to map out land and property. Using GIS information, they can determine key details about the property, such as comps, safety, flood zones, and access. A GIS is also valuable to determine whether a certain parcel of land is risky or if an area can be profitable in terms of development.


  1. Ali, E. (2020.) Geographic Information System (GIS): Definition, Development, Applications & Components. University of North Bengal. Retrieved from
  2. USC GIS. (n.d.) How Mapping Is Used by NASA & Applications of GIS in Space. Spatial Sciences Institute, University of Southern California. Retrieved from
  3. Rohde, J. (2020.) What is Due Diligence in Real Estate? Roofstock. Retrieved from

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