Critical Tools to lead you to the Right Solution for your Land

    by Sonja Howle

    Your Sunday Land News recently showcased some great options for generating side income from your small or large tract of commercial land.

    We focus on the geographic tools, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to help make those decisions.

    So as co-founder of Real Estate GIS, I couldn’t resist contacting Kevin May,’s President, to see if we could follow with more information.

    As the land owner, your first considerations explore the “highest and best use,” which The Appraisal Institute defines as “the reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value.”

    Geographic information is essential in this space.  Over the years we’ve identified 6 key maps to help determine distinctive attributes, natural resources, locational perspectives and other real and intrinsic assets and liabilities:


    In cartography, this map shows the location of a particular geographic area within its larger and presumably more familiar context.

    “By analyzing data around locations, real estate professionals can target properties to match exact specifications and deliver the answers needed to make the most intelligent choices, so the use of GIS is a natural match for all aspects of real estate business.”

    Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair at American Sentinel University


    This is the result of taking photographs from an airborne platform such as aircraft, helicopter, kite, blimp, drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle.


    In modern mapping, a topographic map is a type of map characterized by large-scale detail and quantitative representation of relief, usually using contour lines, but historically using a variety of methods.  Traditional definitions require a topographic map to show both natural and man-made features.


    This map represents the excavations or structures in the ground from digging, driving, boring or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers.  It may also represent aquifers, rivers and streams and the mineral levels in each.


    This is a representation showing diversity of soil types and/or soil properties (soil pH, textures, organic matter, depths of horizons, etc.) in the area of interest.  It’s typically the end result of a soil survey inventory, i.e. soil survey.

    Flood Plain

    Flood Plain maps show flood risk zones and their boundaries, and may also show floodways and Base Flood Elevations (BFEs).

    You can see examples of each from the link at the end of this post on the Real Estate GIS website.  They can be a springboard for more questions and opportunities.  They can lead you to more specific geographic information and data.

    These geographic tools are surprisingly underutilized.

    The geographic data available to you is generated by and utilized by federal, state and local agencies and municipalities.  The cost is minimal when compared to the cost of investing in the wrong solution.

    At Real Estate GIS, we can guide you.  We work with thought leaders in agriculture, energy and real estate as well as geographic information technology.  Learn more or receive monthly case studies at, (

    Sonja Howle is a co-founder of, located outside San Antonio, Texas.

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