Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
Mapping technology has come a long way since the days Mapquest and Garmin ruled the lot. A host of open-data and proprietary tools offers real estate pros—both residential and commercial—new ways to share data about properties, local economic trends, and neighborhood amenities. Free and low-cost products, including Leaflet, Google’s My Maps, CARTO Builder, and BatchGeo, can help you create custom maps of favorite neighborhood haunts, walking tours, or even comparable listings. The results will surely get the attention of prospective clients, both online and offline.
You don’t have to be a master coder to make the tools your own, says Christopher Coté, R&D lead lab engineer for the National Association of REALTORS®’ Center for REALTOR® Technology. He says tech-savvy agents may be able to create their own customized maps, or they can rely on their regular web designer, who doesn’t have to be a mapping specialist.
“An entry-level web developer can create stylized map views that match the look of your brand, or if you’re [focused on] an individual property, match the style of the home,” Coté says. “You can adjust the controls or even customize buttons or overlays so that the map ties into your information.”
Real estate professionals can take advantage of data that more and more municipalities are making publicly available about city services. For example, Chicago’s open data portal offers location--specific information about new business licenses, bike-share rentals, and average electricity use, among more than 200 other sets that developers can incorporate in applications. “You can pull in a lot of extra data around the neighborhood,” Coté says. “All that data is geotagged so you can map it to [a specific] area.”
When hiring mapping professionals, Coté suggests looking for a team that understands both data and design. “You need a mix of data scientist, designer, and geographer,” he says.
One such company is atlas3D, where programmers use the open-source OpenStreetMap system as a base upon which they stack professionally designed renderings of buildings, videos, interactive 3-D photography, and landscaping, to help tell the story of a place. They can bring in information about comps from an MLS and update data in real time. The maps they build can also easily be embedded on a brokerage’s website, which helps bring consumers back to your site.
“The interactive media draws people in and allows them to get a feel for the space,” says Madeline Hennessy, director of sales at concept3D Inc., the parent company of atlas3D. She notes that the ability to embed these assets into their maps is a real draw for the real estate industry. “Real estate pros could easily make a virtual tour of their most recent or most popular properties and send the map out by email to clients and promote it on their websites, social media, flyers, and any other channels they use.” Commercial real estate companies such as Keys Commercial in Boulder, Colo., and Highland-March Workspaces in the southern suburbs of Boston have used atlas3D’s services to highlight the location of available properties within the larger community. And entire cities such as Stapleton, Colo., and Ontario, Calif., use the maps to highlight what’s special about their areas in a new, interactive way.
Mapping also provides the opportunity to prospect in smarter ways, using tools such as SmartZip’s SmartTargeting product, which helps real estate pros predict who in a neighborhood is most likely to need real estate services soon, or something like Badger Mapping, which works with CRM software to visualize prospects on a map and helps optimize driving routes for sales pros of all types.
Mapping technology can also help real estate pros answer complex questions about their communities. What if you want to know the specific locations in your community where a particular retail store will thrive based on socioeconomic factors and product demand? Or you may want to predict where future development may occur, so you’ll know where to concentrate your outreach efforts. For questions such as these, the holy grail of mapping toolboxes may reside with Esri, a Redlands, Calif.–based company that owns the commercial licensing rights to Google Earth. Esri combines maps with other information such as census data, traffic counts, and consumer spending indices. The company uses that data to help real estate pros and their clients understand the market potential of an area.
Esri’s tools are integrated into the commercial segment of REALTORS Property Resource®. The partnership allows users to finely tune their site selection analyses. “Let’s say a commercial real estate professional is working with a developer who is trying to find a location for a mixed-use community with apartments and retail space. With a quick analysis of demographic, psychographic, and spending data, they can target areas with young, successful singles seeking urban lifestyles who spend their disposable income on dining out and shopping,” says Emily Line, vice president of commercial services at RPR. The presentation tools at RPR Commercial allow users to predict how areas will develop and whether that growth looks sustainable according to demographic and economic statistics for the current state of the market as well as projections to 2020.
In addition to RPR, Esri has worked with Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler Realty in central Florida and MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services in Baltimore on custom projects. Helen Thompson, Esri’s director of commercial marketing, notes that the software can incorporate the video and tracking efforts from drones into interactive 3-D geographic data to help appraisers and other real estate professionals update maps of large tracts of land more frequently.
“Say you want to see trees that have died or a new road being built,” Thompson says. “You don’t need to send the surveyor out; you can do pretty much everything yourself.”
Web traffic is nice, but what about bringing more clients into the office? Maybe it’s time your brokerage built its very own map room. New York–based tech development company End Point has installed its Liquid Galaxy mapping display at dozens of companies worldwide. The first real estate firm to use Liquid Galaxy was CBRE, followed by other commercial firms, including ProLogis and JLL. The installations consist of an array of 55-inch screens, generally set up in a darkened area of an office. Users can enter any address and explore the area freely using a joystick. The product isn’t just imagery, either; Liquid Galaxy can display key information of interest to real estate investors and developers, such as population density and nearby transportation.
Ben Witten, a strategist at End Point, says the experience feels a little like flying a plane. “It’s definitely an eye-catcher,” he says. Outside of virtual reality technology and actually being inside of a building, “it’s the only large, immersive way to experience a new property.” But regardless of how your clients interact with your maps, be sure to have clear goals in mind. Coté says many map designers are moving away from super-detailed, interactive designs because they have the tendency to overwhelm. “It’s almost too much,” he says. “You need to remove any extraneous information that isn’t going to help tell the story.”
As the promise of big data to power decision-making pushes ahead, the potential for mapping out large amounts of information in a way your clients can appreciate visually will similarly expand. After all, if they want to find the right “location, location, location,” they’re going to need an expert guide to get there.