Location, location location is the mantra of the real estate industry. GIS is a location focused technology. And yet the use of GIS in the real estate industry, particularly commercial real estate (CRE), remains somewhat limited. There are recent signs that might be changing, as real estate companies realise the benefits GIS can bring to an ever more competitive market. In this article we will discuss work we recently completed with a real estate company, using GIS to dramatically improve their real estate listing process.
Innovative Applications of GIS in Real Estate
Real Estate 101
The real estate market is broadly split into residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural/rural segments. Residential real estate can include, houses, condominiums and town homes. In contrast commercial real estate covers office buildings, multi-family housing, development land, and retail store buildings. Industrial real estate can include factories, mines and warehouses. Finally agricultural/rural includes row crop, pasture, livestock facilities, timberland, mini-farms, transitional land, and land supporting other crops such as fruit, berries and nuts.
In 2014 we were approached by a company based in the eastern US focused on land sales of rural, timberland, recreational, and transitional land. The owner recognized the potential benefits GIS might bring to his business and approached us with a number of key challenges:
1. Potential buyers and agents wanted more detailed property information including interactive maps of the property. Agents wanted the ability to show the client their location on the interactive map as they showed the property even if there was no cell phone coverage.
2. Agents used pen and paper and manual input to generate new listings. This was slow and time consuming.
3. The company web site needed manually updating to add new listings or to make changes to existing listings. As the company grew this was becoming more time consuming and complex and kept agents in the office performing clerical work when they should be selling.
4. Listings data was not centralized. A single authoritative source would help greatly the management of listings.
The company owner wanted his agents to have the ability to visit a new property for sale, use their smartphone or tablet to collect data about the property (including taking pictures), then have that information automatically sent to the website as a new listing page via a central repository. No more pen and paper, no more translating notes into spreadsheets or webpages by hand, no more duplicate or triplicate data entry. The information would be entered once, from any number of devices and from any environment, then synced up to a cloud-based GIS repository. From there a filtered version of this information would be automatically published to the company web site along with interactive maps of the property, showing (and describing) the property, with supporting images taken by the agent’s phone or tablet. These maps could include multiple geo-coded property features with descriptions, photos and short videos. Further this information would automatically be pushed out to key land listing services for expanded advertising. Again no more manual updates, information entered in the field would automatically make its way out to the website in near real time, with zero additional effort from the agent. And the agents could make updates for price changes, status or add more information to listings by phone or tablet from the field.
So dramatic time savings, improved accuracy, more detailed property information, fast near real time distribution and availability of the new listing and updates to existing listings.
Though they are one of the leading land sale companies in their state, like many others, their land sale listing workflows were inefficient. The processing of new listings was manual and time consuming. Agents would visit new properties, gather information using pen and paper. This would then be manually added to their website and shared with land listing services. The owner wanted to turn this process on its head. To automate data collection and input, and improve both the accuracy and the details provided on each property, and significantly decrease the amount of effort from his agents in the field. In all, make the data collection process much more scale-able. Let the agents be salesmen not secretaries.
The GIS Solution
ArcGIS Online from Esri was chosen as the core GIS technology. As shown in the diagram below, there were 3 core pieces to the implementation:
1. Mobile Data Collection – Agents using smartphones or tablets (Apple, Android) use one of two property data collection apps. Collector is a map driven app for more technically savvy agents, while geo-forms is an easy to use forms drive app. Leveraging GPS on the mobile device the location of the property is collected first. Next the properties details are collected. Lastly pictures are taken. Once complete the user hits the submit button and this information is linked and pushed to the central company ArcGIS system.
2. Centralized Data Storage – Once submitted, this data collected by agents is available to all in the organization. That means the property can be viewed on a map, and analysed using various tools available with ArcGIS.
3. Automated Property Listing – Once the information on the new property was in ArcGIS, we took this data and automatically pushed it both to the company listings page and various property listing services. A sample listing is shown below:
A process which once took days now takes hours. The automation of the real estate listing process provided a significant saving in time and money for our client. It has allowed agents to spend their time focused on selling properties, dramatically improving both their income and company revenues.
Contact us for more information on 801-733-0723.