The Power of Mapping: Googling the Perfect House

How can community data be useful to us as citizens and as neighbors?  Doug Griffin, a resident of Siesta Key and member of the SCOPE Data Team, describes how he and his wife recently used online GIS mapping tools to address a challenge that many of us face at some point in our lives.

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In the beginning my wife and I had a simple objective - find an affordable house on water in Sarasota County commutable to downtown. 

So we contacted a realtor and gave her our specifications -

  • What we could afford
  • Square feet
  • Number of bedrooms, baths
  • A pool / hot tub
  • Etc., etc.

AND on water, preferably with birds.

Our realtor sent us listings on line.  The listings all fit our criteria with the exception of "water."  It turned out that water information is not an explicit check box for the listing agent.  Unlike "pool" water descriptions are typically free form and often misleading.  Listing photos to can be misleading as well.  Photos of water often turn out to be an active drainage ditch or retention pond that goes dry during the winter months.  After visiting houses for a month we realized we were wasting time; we needed more information to ensure that a prospect house was on water. 

We asked our Realtor for access to the MLS system and she sent us a search link with 139 listings that matched our criteria (except "water").  It was then that we began to understand the power of mapping - we started looking at the Bing Map attached to each listing.   With Bing Maps we were also able to inspect the neighborhood, and quickly locate a listing relative to the places we knew (e.g. downtown Sarasota, beaches, shopping, etc.)  It turned out that of the 139 listings 8 were actually on sufficient water to be interesting.

So Bing was a great help - we were able to discard some prospects outright without visiting the property.  But we found that Bing Maps are often, how should I say it, wrong.  The results often pointed to the wrong house - a house other than the listed house; sometimes to one across the street, sometimes to one down the street.  Frustration!

Our Realtor contacted the electronic listing people and they told us the problem was unfixable.  So we started using Google Maps.  The downside was that we had to open Google Maps separately from the listing.  However, the integrity of Google Maps was demonstrably better than Bing's.  We knew this because the house in the listing photos always matched the visual information obtained with the Google Map search.

So we kept looking, but now with Google Map support.  Months passed, new listings were sent, and we inspected the ones that looked most promising.  In the end our house search was successful.  We learned a few things in the process -

  1. When looking for real-estate there is high value in mapping prospective properties.
  2. It is possible for widely used mapping tools to have flaws.
  3. In the end, there is no substitute for on the ground inspection.

 

Doug Griffin, Siesta Key

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If you have a story to share about how you have used community data as a citizen or neighbor, please send it to apinto@scopexcel.org and we will post it on the SCOPE Blog.