I’m riding passenger side with my realtor who’s just picked me up from the hotel I’m staying at. I’m scouting out a new market and it’s my first visit to this city. I’ve done a lot of research upfront and have my notebook in hand with a map printed out on my lap. I feel prepared.
We begin our drive and naturally start to get to know each other better while also talking generally about the city. The conversation may sound something like this.
Me: So are you originally from <insert name> city?
Realtor: Not originally, but I moved here 20 years ago so I pretty much consider myself a local now.
Me: Cool. <my eyes scanning the road left and right>.
From where did you…
Realtor: Ah, look here! This plaza we’re passing here just started to be redeveloped a year ago. We’re seeing a lot of new retail and restaurants pop up on this particular block
<my eyes following his finger pointing my right>.
Starting to really drive a lot of the surrounding home values up.
Me: Is that right? <My head now searching to see a street sign>
What street was that?
Realtor: That was Main street and you’ll want to stay north of MLK blvd. It gets a bit dicey on the south side.
Me: Really? That’s interesting.
<my head down feverishly writing notes into my notebook>
And we’re heading ….north?
Realtor: Actually heading east now. We just turned onto Broadway.
Realtor: There’s actually more city plans to rejuvenate some of the older districts here on the edge of downtown. So what kind of work do you do?
Me: <my head tilted down to my notebook while I jot more notes>.
Uh, me? I’m just an engineer.
Realtor: Here we are. The first house I wanted to show you.
Me: <head now shooting up having missed the general neighborhood entrance>.
Oh, we’re here already. What street did you just turn on?
The day runs on like this. So what in the world happened? I thought I was prepared.
By the time I get home, my notebook is full of chicken scratch that’s barely legible and my head is full of mixed images of different streets I’ve been to all day. I have a general idea of all the neighborhoods I visited, but the exact streets and routes that I took to get there are easily forgotten.
Being busy taking so many notes actually detracts from using your own eyes to get a feel for the streets you’re on. While street names are easily forgotten, you’re much more likely to remember what a street looked like.
On my very first trip out to the Midwest a few years ago, I missed a lot of what was going on in front of me because I was trying to capture too many street names. I switched my approach on my next visit by writing much less and focused on taking everything in mentally.
Big mistake. I couldn’t remember a thing.
But I want to have my cake and eat it too!
Well you can.
This post is to help minimize the amount of notes you take by automatically recording every street you travel on during your trip. You can then focus more on observing the neighborhood, the houses, and building that relationship with your real estate agent or property manager you’re in the car with.
It’s taken many trips to out of state markets for me to refine my approach. Back in March I went to check out Indy and started using a new tool for recording just exactly where I’ve been. I still carry a notebook with me to jot down important notes, but when it comes to recalling where I went and what route I took, I never need to write this stuff down anymore.
In this post I’ll detail how drive routes are automatically recorded and in a future post, I’ll detail how I incorporate this information into a custom Google My Map.
Map My Drive
I use a free app called Map My Drive on my iPhone. It’s a very simple GPS tracking application that will plot where you drive on a map. It records other useful details such as the drive distance and duration, which is perfect for someone who needs to document their mileage in order to write it off come tax time. Unfortunately, the app is only available for iPhones and at the time of this post being written, there’s no Android version of this app.
Once you’re ready to start a drive or when you get picked up by a realtor for example, I set the app to start tracking. From that point, Map My Drive will continually track my location in the background, allowing me to use my phone for other purposes (i.e. take photos, take notes, etc.). When the drive is over, I hit stop tracking, and the app saves the entire trip route and details.
To the right is a snapshot of the app in action during my trip to Indy last March.
The problem with other GPS Tracking Apps
There are other GPS tracking apps that you can use and in fact, I was a big fan of Rove. Rove was a daily journal app that tracked your movements and also overlay-ed any pictures you took while the app was running onto your trip map.
Why did I stop using this app? Well, it was bought out by Trip Advisor in 2015. Then the app shut down along with all of my information, which no longer was available to access. This was a huge disappointment shared by many and can be read here. All one could do before the shutdown was export all your trips as a static map, which wasn’t very useful. By static, I mean, it was just an image of the map.
The sudden shutdown of Rove taught me to not be entirely reliant on an app. If you’re using an app, you need to have a way to export that information easily and hopefully, the exported form will be just as useful as viewing it within the app itself. I just hate the idea that all my information is locked into an app, making me entirely dependent on using the app to access my own information.
Advanced Feature of Map My Drive
I don’t have to worry about losing all my information with Map My Drive like I did in the past with ROVE. Why? Well because the app allows me to export a KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file to my computer or Google Drive. This is by far my favorite feature of Map My Drive.
What’s a KML file?
Well, it’s basically a file format used to display geographic data in a browser such as Google Earth or Google Maps.
Why is this a big deal?
Not only am I backing my information up by exporting a KML file to Google Drive, but more importantly, by having the KML file I can then incorporate it into a Google’s My Map!
Let me repeat this because this is huge! With Google My Maps, you can create your own custom maps, which I’ll write a post about how I use them in the near future. So within my custom map, I can add a layer where I display all the drives I took in a given area.
So for example, during my research of Indy I created a custom Google My Map titled “Indy 2016”. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I populated it with all sorts of useful information such as areas to stay out of, nice rental areas, high crime areas, houses that I plan to see, etc. Now on top of that very same map, I can then upload my KML trip files that contain my drives. You may see something like this.
Yes, those are gun icons to denote high crime spots. I use a system of red, yellow, and green markers to easily denote rent values. Green being rents that are higher than $1000/month, yellow between $750 and $1000, and red renting for less than $750. Each marker can also have their own notes associated with them.
My drives are on a layer of the map that I can turn on or off if I don’t want to see them. The image above is showing 2 different drives from that day. I have about 7 total drives that I can display from that weekend I spent in Indy where I visited all of those house markers in the image above. Though displaying all 7 drives at once would be way too overwhelming to see.
Are you starting to see the real power of this? It’s an incredibly useful research tool.
This custom map is exactly what I’m looking at on my iPhone while I’m in someone’s car as we drive neighborhoods. Sure I can pull up a regular Google Map, but that wouldn’t have all of my customized notes that I’ve added during my research phase.
I’ll detail how to export your KML driving files from the Map My Drive app and incorporate it into Google’s My Map in a future post.
Before I go on a drive
I will launch Map My Drive on my iphone to start tracking my position. I then keep it running in the background. Note that it does tend to use a lot of your battery so be sure to have a car charger with you. You don’t want your phone to die on you unexpectedly. This happened to me the first time.
During my drive
I focus on scanning the area looking for the conditions of the houses, the sizes, the styles, how well maintained they are, 1 car garages or 2 car standard, BMWs or junkers parked out front. Any furniture on the lawn? People outside just hanging out on the front porch?
I also focus on getting to know my agent and building our relationship. It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly writing trivial street names on a notebook. I glance only occasionally on my phone to give me a reference of where I am on my custom Google My Map. This map shows where I am in real time along with any notes I’ve already made about the area.
When my drive is done
I stop tracking on the Map My Drive app. Back in my hotel room, I’ll then go back and write down any other details or information from my drive into my notebook that I didn’t have a chance to do earlier.
Lastly, I export my drive’s KML file to Google Drive and then import it into Google’s My Map. Details for how to do this will be shown in a future post.
Months later I can always refer back to Map My Drive or to my Google My Map to check out exactly what streets I drove through. What’s great is that I can access this information on Google My Map on any computer or device and not just my iPhone.
When you’re visiting a market that’s not local, you really need to make the most of your trip. If you can spend less time having to write trivial notes down such as what street you visited, then that frees you up to really observe a neighborhood better as well as focus on building your relationship with your realtor or property manager that’s driving you around.
I have no affiliation with Map My Drive. I just think it’s a useful and free app that people can use in so many ways. Use it as an investor who’s visiting a new market. Use it when you’re driving for dollars and scouting out neighborhoods. Use it as a way to document your mileage to help you come tax time.
Hope you found this post helpful. Have another method for tracking your routes? I’d love to hear them or if you have any questions, leave me a comment below.