Innovative use of ArcGIS for Land Sales
Its always pleasurable to write about innovative uses of ArcGIS. Particularly when it comes to customers of WebMapSolutions. In this case, one of our commercial ArcGIS customers, focused on real estate. The implementation was truly an innovative use of ArcGIS for management of land sales.
Real Estate 101
Before we jump into the details, let’s step back for a moment. The real estate market is broadly split into residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural/rural segments. Residential real estate can include, houses, condominiums and townhomes. 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 rowcrop, 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 in 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 in the field selling.
4. Listings data was not centralized. A single authoritative source, editable by agents in the field, would greatly improve the management of listings.
The 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 geocoded 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, with far less work involved from the agents.
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 scalable. Let the agents be salesmen not secretaries.
Evolving an ArcGIS Based Strategy
The company was already using ArcGIS desktop. They reached out to WebMapSolutions to help widen and deepen their use of the ArcGIS Platform. The owner had a clear view of what he wanted to achieve, a vision he could articulate. That proved to be a key element in the final success of the end solution.
During our initial conversations with the client we recognized 4 key areas requiring thought and focus:
1. Knowledge transfer and GIS design.
2. Data planning and preparation.
3. Agents with varying levels of skills regarding new technology.
4. Custom nature of key elements of the requirements.
The land sale market was new to us. As part of the planning process, we needed to better understand both the market, and our clients place in the sector. From here a GIS design or blueprint could be put in place, guiding the work.
We take pains to build a solid foundation for all GIS solutions we implement. That means taking the time and effort to focus on data as the core of the solution. It’s common for the importance of data planning and preparation to be overlooked and often that requires customer education on our part. With this particular client however, he had a good grasp of the importance and trusted our recommendations to put the level of effort in upfront that was needed. Much time would be needed focusing on building the GIS repository correctly, with the right data-sets to meet his end goals.
The customer has over a dozen agents. They vary in age and familiarity with technology. When considering data collection options, it was clear a number of different choices would be needed to best fit agent comfort levels. It was important to always keep in mind that the overarching need was to provide new methods of data collection which allowed a system of record or authoritative centralized data-set to be built with as little field effort as possible.
Finally, we recognized early in our client conversations that a mix of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions and custom development would be needed.
Implementing an ArcGIS Solution for Land Sales
As already mentioned, the client’s clear vision, and ability to articulate this vision, was very important to the final success of this implementation. This was an ongoing process involving a critical feedback loop. The successful pattern of communication to implementation which evolved became:
1) The client expressing the outcome of this phase of work (“this is what i want”)
2) Translation by WebMapSolutions staff into geospatial (from vision to GIS)
3) Checking back with the client about what the result would be of the geospatial solution being proposed (“It would give you this, is that what you need?”)
4) Adjustment to those solutions as needed (improved, more accurate translation)
5) Training and Implementation.
The client recognized early the importance of data. Data preparation became a key element underpinning much of the work done. Data was published to the client’s new ArcGIS Online subscription. WebMapSolutions took advantage of the many COTS solutions available with ArcGIS. Careful consideration was given to choosing the best mix of COTS applications for agent use. The final solution set was made up of:
1. ArcGIS Pro/ArcMap – used for office based batch editing and deeper GIS work
2. Collector for ArcGIS – used by the more technically savvy agents for data collection on smartphones.
3. GeoForms – used by agents more comfortable with form driven data collection methods on smartphones.
4. ArcGIS Online viewer – used for admin, editing and other GIS tasks by office based staff.
Data collected is stored in ArcGIS Online and published to feature layers. With this centralized authoritative data source, custom automation processes were then built to automatically add new listings to the company web site and distribute to land listing services.
In the end, this effort was a resounding success due to the excellent communication of vision, brainstorming solutions, and implementation progress between the client and our staff. The client remained fully engaged throughout the entire project and was very good about continually sharing his vision with us as it evolved throughout this effort. Being on the same page with the client allowed us to create solutions that matched the client’s needs and goals well. At the end, we provided on-site training to help them get this solution implemented in the field and they are successfully using it today.