Leveraging Google Maps and Google Earth

It is mind-boggling that Google Earth and Google Maps are free. These programs allow you to get 3D views of properties anywhere in the world, download extensive files with all the information you could ever want about land, monitor natural disasters in real time, and you don’t need to spend a penny to use them. Land experts need to have a wide range of expertise with Google Maps and Google Earth. Whether you’re a Google Earth pro or new to virtual mapping, we’ve got you covered with tips for how to take your Google Mapping skills to the next level so you can better market your properties and more confidently serve your clients.

Before we dive into these two technologies, you might be asking yourself Wait… aren’t Google Maps and Google Earth the same thing? They have a few important differences. Google Maps is a mapping website used more for locating places and getting directions. The graphics aren’t as good, but the traffic and navigation options are up-to-the-second accurate. Google Earth, on the other hand, is used more for virtually visiting properties, with stunning high-def graphics. Both are extremely useful to land experts, Google Maps for navigation and Google Earth for information.


Explore The World Without Leaving Your Couch

When you use Google Earth, you can explore 3D versions of various properties and the surrounding area. If you want to explore a property that is way out of driving range, using Google Earth lets you get an in-depth look into the land.

Turn Back The Clock

Want to know the history of a property, but can’t find information on it anywhere? Whether it’s difficult owners or confusing paperwork, being stuck without any information about your property’s history can be beyond frustrating. Google Earth lets you view the exact same property at different points in time. Not only can this help you get a sense of a property’s history, it also gives you a sense about the area’s future land values. As you flip through the years, keep an eye on the properties around yours. Is there a lot of development? That’s a good indicator that land values are on the rise and the land is in the path of growth. Notice little to no improvements made to the land? Is the land looking worse over time? Chances are values could soon fall.


Measure Lot Dimensions

Google Earth’s measuring tool lets land experts measure out everything from lot sizes to how many feet of lake frontage a property might have.

To use this feature, go to the ‘Measurements’ tab in the upper left-hand corner. First, pick your unit of measurement (miles, feet, inches). Then, simply click and drag your mouse around the area you want to measure. The tool in the corner will immediately let you know the area’s measurements. It’s that easy!

Longitude and Latitude

Many rural land properties (especially vacant land), don’t have registered street addresses. This can make it difficult for clients to visit the property. Google Earth allows you to get the longitude and latitude of any location on Earth. Just zoom in on the area, click on the location, and it’ll give you the coordinates. You can use the ‘share’ tool to send the URL to clients or put it on your website.


Import KMZ And KML

KML (Keyhole Markup Language) and KMZ (KML-Zipped) are file formats that store important information (parcel information, buildings, power grids) about land via Google Earth. You’ll want these if you want in-depth information about the land.

Before you can access this great tool, you’ll need to download an application like Parlay. This application provides the parcel data layers and files to use in Google Maps. Once you’ve downloaded Parlay, you will see layers of data in your ‘My Places’ tab.

Make A Tour

Why send clients a link to a property when you can give them a tour of it? The tours, called KML tours, can also be narrated by you! Click the ‘Add Tour’ button in the main screen, and when you are ready, press the ‘Record’ button. Create the tour by zooming in and out, rotating the globe, and flying to different locations. Your microphone will record whatever you say (stumble in the middle of your planned speech? Never fear! You can edit the audio once you’ve finished the tour). Click the ‘Record’ button again when you are done.

After writing this article, we still can’t wrap our heads around the fact that this program is free. Google Maps and Google Earth can be some of the most powerful tools a land expert has. We hope these tips will help you make the most of it.

Seth Williams from RETipster has lots of excellent step-by-step videos on Google Maps and Earth. He even shares tricks such as drawing parcel lines with the polygon tool and how to find the elevation of any point on Earth. Check them out!

Want to learn more about Google Mapping? If you are in Texas, you’re in luck! RLI’s Texas Chapter is hosting a Google Earth Mapping for Real Estate course on June 25.

About the Author: Laura Barker is the Membership and Communications Specialist for the REALTORS® Land Institute. She graduated from Clark University in May 2017 and has been with RLI since October 2017.