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Maps: Your secret weapon in commercial real estate

Feb 11, 2016

I first recall hearing the old real estate adage “location, location, location” from my parentsneither of whom has worked buying, selling, brokering or developing real estate. It’s an aphorism that has been firmly fixed in pop culture and the business lexicon. And as long as we are bound by space, it will remain true.

But how do you communicate location?  

Answer: a map. And therein lies the savvy CRE broker’s secret weapon.

The joy of maps

Maps communicate location, spatial relativity, social, cultural, economic and environmental phenomenon, the movement of people and animals, networks, the flow of capital, crime, and so much more. They help us draw conclusions about where we are relative to things that fascinate, excite, frighten and compel us. When used to tell a story (which happens constantly in my map nerd circle...population of 1), maps can help people understand and connect with something based on their knowledge of places they’ve actually been.  

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You don’t need to think too hard to realize how this relates to real estate. Maps can demonstrate your mastery of a market, and they can help create an emotional connection with a client or with a space you're showing. When researching and analyzing real estate, hosting virtual explorations or tours with a client, and preparing and delivering a presentation, maps should play a vital role.  

Here’s why. 

Maps are engaging tools that make people feel comfortable

During my time working with commercial real estate brokers, I’ve heard countless stories about how a map they created helped them close a deal. Statements like this were common: “I rolled out a laminated map on the conference table and my client immediately pointed out his property and started calling out the neighboring sites and their owners, some interesting site down the road, a notable new development, and the adjacent freeway.”  

I remember the first time I showed my family members an aerial view of their own homes on Bing or Google Maps. They were mesmerized. Why? They’re there everyday. What makes it so special to see it from the air?

I think it’s because of the comfort in seeing that you have a place in the grander scheme of your town and city. You’re in a community.

As a broker you have this same opportunity to mesmerize and engage simply by using effective map visuals in your presentations. When a client is comforted by something you use to help them understand a deal, they become more trustful of you.

Maps tell a story without words

Here’s another adage to consider: “a map is worth a thousand words” (or something like that).

Because maps are scaled-down versions of the places we live, work and play, they’re immediately relatable. People often spot the things they recognize and start telling their own stories about the places they go.

In commercial real estate, these stories can be especially compelling. Using maps as a narrative tool can demonstrate value or opportunity based on spatial relativity—evoking the emotions that only place can give, and helping clients see spaces in relation to their everyday lives.

For example, think about an employee commute map that shows drive time around proposed new office locations. The image immediately helps decision makers visualize the daily commutes. Or take an amenities map. Again, decision makers can visualize the daily walk they and their employees will take to get lunch and experience life together.

Here's a sample employee commute map. The red icons are potential office locations, the dots are ZIP centroids styled by number of employees living in each, and the rings are 10-, 20- and 30-minute drive times.


Maps enable people to figure out a city or locale they've never been to—in minutes

This one is a favorite of mine and it has to do with aerial imagery interpretation and land use analysis. For these purposes, we’ll focus on how you can familiarize yourself with a place you’ve never been and convey meaningful insights to your client.

I’ve been asked more than once if I was from the very city I was presenting about simply because I was able to communicate land use and to spot potential opportunities using a map. Clients felt so comfortable with my handle on their market that they thought I lived there. How else can someone know so much about a place unless they live or frequent there, right? The answer is that land use patterns can easily be spotted through aerial imagery...with a little bit of training.  

Consider this: Industrial parks are defined by areas of homogeneous large building footprints with white and gray rooftops, a gridded street pattern and rail lines. Office parks look similar but usually have more trees, varied color tones in buildings, semi-homogenous building footprints, shadows cast by taller buildings and closer proximity to residential properties. Central business districts are characterized visually from the air by large shadows cast by very tall buildings, a very tight street grid, close proximity of individual buildings, and a series of freeways running through or directly around the entire perimeter.  

What about when one type of area transitions into another? Admittedly these are harder to spot, but it’s possible if you know what you’re looking for. Downtown areas eventually give way to lower density residential zones and linear arrangements of retail and commercial corridors. These can typically be identified by more parking lots, gradually-shrinking building footprints, easier-to-spot vegetation, parks, and longer, more linear arrangements of connected rooftops.

Like I was saying: maps. If you learn how to use them proficiently, they can be your secret weapon in building emotional connections with clients and prospects, demonstrating your market expertise, and identifying hidden opportunities. The forms and formats may change, but the power of maps persists.

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Topics: Best Practices

Russ Duncan

Written by Russ Duncan

Russ is Apto's Director of Product Marketing and helps drive product direction through customer discovery, consulting, research and advocacy. Russ is a CRE tech industry veteran and has held several positions at Digital Map Products, including Product Manager, Customer Success Manager, & Solution Engineer. He's a serial observationalist interested in understanding the built and natural environments, systems of engagement and movement of information; and moreover how people use and interact with them.

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