How GIS is Being Used in Real Estate

Joseph Magnotta


What do GIS and real estate have in common? They both place a very high importance on location. For real estate professionals, location is always one of the determining factors influencing property value. For GIS users, location is the origin of geographic data. The accuracy of location determines the value of data and how it will be used. Because of the common focus of both of these subjects, GIS can be used as a valuable tool in many different conventions of real estate. There is a plenitude of topics in the discussion of GIS and real estate, but a few of the most general tasks for which this geospatial technology is used are property research, market analysis, and spatial analysis.

Are You Still Driving to the County Seat for Data?

When researching real property, the depth of inquiry required for analysis could be a fairly narrow range of attributes to a quite comprehensive investigation. In the past, property record researchers depended on combing through catalogued paper documents at the county courthouse to find records of ownership, sales history, and other parcel documentation. This regimen remains true to this day for many counties. However, municipalities that have invested in a county GIS have given researchers the ability to search electronically for property records, many via the web. It is common for a large county to offer a tax parcel inquiry tool equipped with pertinent documents hyperlinked to each parcel polygon.

Parcel inquiry on Sangamon County, IL GIS Tax Parcel Viewer
Parcel inquiry on Sangamon County, IL GIS Tax Parcel Viewer.

All of this convenience greatly reduces time and cuts overhead drastically, padding the real estate company’s bottom line, but the financial benefit GIS brings to property research comes to maturation in sales analysis.

GIS Makes Performing Market Analysis Better

Market analysis is one of the most important steps in any real estate practice. Consider real estate sales versus valuation. Research needed for each may differ in depth, but both require analyzing comparative sales in a given location. Prior to analysis, additional research is conducted on comparable properties recently sold in the subject property’s area. There are many MLS (multiple listing service) companies that realtors may subscribe to in order to harvest comparable sales data. Some MLSs display geocoded representations of the queried properties being researched. After the comparative sales data is acquired, it is populated into the realtor’s market analysis software. This software, likely another tool independent of the MLS, uses formulas to compare data arranged in tabular form. A software license usually includes an all-in-one suite of tools that yields all generated results in a report, including geographical representations of all properties being compared. While most realtors utilize specialized real estate software equipped with tools that use geospatial technology, like geocoding and multi-layered maps, it is possible to achieve more precise market analysis with robust GIS software. MLS software and most market analysis tools include pre-defined parameters for querying data. On the contrary, tools in leading GIS software are often customizable. The user is able to import MLS data into the program and set specific parameters, yielding better results. Even so, the benefits of GIS software are found to be increasingly more fruitful by further exploring spatial analysis.

Spatial Analysis Yields Winners Around the Table

The approach to real estate sales most importantly keeps the perspective of the buyer in mind. Spatial analysis gives the realtor, and ultimately the seller, the ability to more easily showcase the subject property’s characteristics and advantages with respect to its location. For example, analysis detailing the shortest-path from a property to a workplace, school, or shopping area can be a large factor for a prospective buyer when weighing the asking price of a house. Before the convenience of instantaneous spatial analysis, less accurate estimates of commuting paths were measured “as the crow flies.” Moreover, the ability to see a property overlaid by school districts, aerial photography, shopping access, and utility services gives the buyer an immediate sense of place for their possible new home. This functionality allows the buyer to make decisions more quickly and confidently than before. In most cases, the buyer can accomplish much of their preliminary house hunting from their computer. A well-informed buyer can take some pressure off of a realtor and contribute to a painless sale. Spatial analysis truly benefits every stakeholder in a real estate transaction.

Both hidden and in the forefront, the luxuries of GIS technology consumed in real estate are many. They are evident in property record database portals, geocoded database query tools, and especially in GIS market and spatial analysis. Whether realtors and investors recognize the vital roles these tools play, or at times even notice them at all, they run on GIS technology to keep the gears of the real estate industry turning.


Sangamon County, IL. 2014. Sangamon County, IL Parcel Viewer

Donlon, Kevin H. 2007. Using GIS to Improve the Services of a Real Estate Company. Department of Resource Analysis, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Winona, MN. 59987 (PDF)

Rodriguez, Mauricio, C.F. Sirmans, and AllenMarks. 1995. Using Geographic Information Systems to Improve Real Estate Analysis. The Journal of Real Estate Research. Vol.10 Num. 2

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Joseph Magnotta

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