Deals in the
GIS and Data
By Jim Klein, SIOR
Good technology improves real estate deal making—this is no secret. In this article I will go into my experi- ence with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and how it has become a fundamental tool for my business. At its simplest, GIS programs are a visual adjunct to database
and contact management programs. However, if used to its fullest,
GIS can crystalize multiple property relationships to monetize real
estate information by traditional forms of deal making, solve complicated problems, and create new business models.
Today, in the traditional real estate industry, retailers have taken
the most advantage of GIS programs by making strategic location
decisions. On the other end of the spectrum, and outside of the
commercial real estate business, new location-based tech companies, such as Yelp and FourSquare use this geolocation data to
build profitable, mobile enterprises.
To put mapping in its proper technological perspective, consider the furor when the iPhone tried to replace Google Maps with
its own inferior Apple Maps. Mapping has not only become ubiquitous in everyday life, it should be an essential part of every real
Contrary to what many may think, creating robust GIS applications has never been easier. There are inexpensive open source
programs, numerous sources of excellent data, and many ways to
host and share applications. It’s easy to connect to other good mapping programs through Application Programming Interfaces (API)
and Web Map Services (WMS). When used together they create
powerful mapping programs.
Is this perhaps a little too technical? I’ll take a step back. There
are now graduate level GIS programs being offered in 160 universities teaching great consultants to adopt mapping technology to
your everyday business life. GIS is used in all sorts of industry and
government departments to make critical business and marketing
decisions. Hedge funds and financial institutions are using GIS and
data warehouses as a backbone to trade mortgage backed securities
and real property assets, hopefully more prudently than they did in
GIS combines spatial data or geographical information with
non-spatial data, such as market information (comps, tenants,
owners, etc.). Many of us simply keep market data in our heads
or in very basic databases. Few of us use complex algorithms to
tackle complicated market problems as programming languages
are not usually part of our vocabulary. Yet there are computer
scientists that are using the entire universe of property and geographical data to crunch the numbers and create very lucrative real
The most obvious examples of companies using universal property data are information providers that many of us rely on for our
daily work. For instance, CoStar, NAR, Niteowl, and Xceligent all
have products that combine data servers and mapping capability.
There are other firms like REIS or Real Capital Analytics that collect property data for extensive statistical, reporting and analysis
purposes. The question is how can we better use data analysis and
mapping tools in our daily business?
My endeavors into the GIS foray involve an application called
MAPP, designed for the way I work. Because my biggest deals
have been finding “off-market” development sites, I’ve created a
very simple GIS program that is able to identify infill land and older
teardown buildings. In other words, I have designed a program to
meet a set of customer objectives by identifying and segmenting
various property data from the entire universe of possibilities. It’s
one area where GIS is uniquely capable.