Property professionals slow to exploit electronic mapping

Copyright: David Lawson

Published: Property Week 2007

If the three most important elements of property are location, location and location, it is ironic that so many professionals have taken so long to exploit the technology designed to show where buildings are located. Electronic maps and aerial pictures are now taken for granted by the average web surfer looking for a home, a store selling a particular product or the nearest station to a new office.  They can soar across the globe to look down on the Grand Canyon or spy into the garden of a childhood home, yet a remarkable amount of property on the web is still limited to address lists.

  Even some of the smallest residential agents have recognized the benefits of showing where homes are located. Leading lights have gone further, including local information such as schools, stations and pictures of surroundings – all the factors that concern tenants and buyers.

  Multimap boasts more than 1,000 property-related clients, yet this compares with 8m hits a month from the public and chairman Sean Phelan has problems coming up with commercial real estate names. Spacia and Easy Offices are an exception, which is understandable, as they are dealing with a similar product to housing agents – scattered, smallish properties, where location and services are foremost in the minds of users.

   A commercial surveyor or valuer might happily waste hours in the office playing with Google Earth or Microsoft Virtual Earth locating their holiday hotel, but it rarely crosses their mind to offer a similar approach for clients. This will have to change as potential tenants and investors demand the same kind of service, says Phelan. In fact, it will have to go further. Business users will expect the snapshot convenience of bird’s eye views but with far more detailed information, adds Richard Pawlyn, managing director of Landmark's property and environment division.

   His focus is not just pinpointing the location of property but what lies beneath. Tougher regulations have brought issues such as pollution into the forefront of planning and valuation. Online services like Landmark’s Envirocheck provide information on potential contamination which often goes back centuries.  This will become more critical as the market works its way through a blitz of property which has changed hands during the boom. Valuers will take a much harder look at buildings rushed through in frenetic deals and may come up with shocks.

  Another driving force is the shift to mobility, says Pawlyn. When you can watch TV on your phone or plot location by SatNav, you expect the same from property sources. Andrew Waller of technology and business adviser Remit Consulting picks out the angled aerial pictures on Virtual Earth as one of the most exciting developments in recent years. ‘I can call it up and match exactly where I am,’ he says.

  Multimap is pushing mobility hard in the residential sector, launching services at next month’s PCS Expo which use techniques such as texting to find a location, calling up details from numbers on sales boards and colour maps from agents or desktop searches designed for the small screen of mobiles.

  Knowing where you are is not enough. While many agents may have been slow to see the benefits of online mapping and aerial photography in marketing, other property professionals have played a leading role.  Solicitors, planners and valuers now routinely call up Landmark’s environmental checking maps. Architects keen to know what hidden problems they may face make up around 85% of more than 25,000 property-related clients.

  And every year they demand more - and more up to date - information to match increasingly stringent planning and environmental regulations. ‘We are seeing the death of tables and spreadsheets,’ says chairman Richard Pawlyn. ‘In future everything will be demanded on maps.’

     He shies away from claiming to have revolutionised mapping – just more comprehensive and convenient. Development is incremental, such as a new tool in Promap showing energy performance labels on its residential GoView site.  This is already throwing up surprising benefits. Accumulating flooding information for analysis by Enviroscreen revealed that 20% of commercial property in the UK is at risk – and not necessarily where expected from recent downpours.

   Bristol heads the list with more than a quarter of premises threatened, closely followed by Bradford, Sheffield and London, compared with only 3% in Liverpool. Bristol was similarly revealed last year to be more of a contamination risk than heavily polluted northern industrial centres. 


 ‘Ten years ago having a web page was leading edge. Five years ago maps appeared and now they are a must. Tomorrow will mean more local information and comparisons of prices’– Sean Phelan, Multimap

 ‘Not long ago you went to a map store for reams of paper. Ten years ago they were put on CD and now they are online. The future will see more current information and detailed aerial pictures – Richard Pawlyn, Landmark