I don’t know about your internet research habits, but if you were to look at my internet browser, you’ll see at least a dozen tabs open at one time. This gives my wife anxiety whenever she borrows my computer. I have a problem closing tabs out of fear that I’ll need to refer back to them again so I leave them all open.
My Excessive Tab Disorder (ETD?) gets even worse prior to taking a trip to an out-of-state market. Why? Because I would have a standard Google map open for every property that I plan to visit. So if I had 10 properties in an out-of-state market that I planned to visit, I’d have 10 Google maps open! Sounds excessive huh.
That’s 10 tabs on top of my usual 12 tabs, for a total of 24 tabs! Not to mention the countless of other tabs where I’m also collecting information on neighborhoods such as crime reports and dangerous areas to stay out of. At this point, I don’t even take the chance to let my wife sneak a peak at my computer.
And then I stumbled across something amazing and it’s called Google My Maps.
Instead of a separate map to list each individual property on its very own, Google My Maps allows me to put them all onto a single map! That only takes up 1 tab on my browser folks! My ETD is reeling into remission 😉
I use Google My Maps to create a custom map for each out-of-state market that I plan to purchase rental property. It’s an incredibly useful research tool that I highly recommend for really any investor. Whether you invest out-of-state or not, any investor who wants to record property locations and notes onto their own custom map will benefit.
For instance, here’s a picture of my customized Indy map. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to replicate this and use Google My Maps for any market that you’re interested in. For a free copy of this custom Google Indianapolis map, click here.
Top 5 Reasons Why I Love to Use Google My Maps
In a nutshell, here’s a list of my 5 top reasons why I love to use Google My Maps.
- Consolidate all your market research into a single custom map that you can continue to update.
- Add as many properties as you like with individual notes and color codes to more easily denote characteristics such as rent range or property class.
- Map out boundaries and neighborhoods for easy reference (e.g. No buy zones and appreciating areas)
- Save your driving routes onto this same map
- Access this map while you’re in the car and actually visiting the market
Setting up a Google My Map
First you’ll need to have a Google account and be signed in.
Then head over to Google My Maps and click “create a new map” as shown below.
Adding a Property to Your Map
To add a property, simply type in the address in the search bar at the top and hit enter. Even if you don’t have the exact address and instead do a search on a landmark, business, or neighborhood (e.g. Fountain Square), the map can still place a marker on the map.
By default, you’ll see a green marker appear. To save this marker, just click “Add to map”. The marker will then turn red, but you can change the color to anything you want. Personally, I like to color code my houses based on the rent. For example, with my Indianapolis map I use either green (rent > $1000), yellow ($750 > rent > $1000), or red (rent < $750) markers for easier reference. Using color coded markers also gives me a better idea for what approximate class of neighborhood I’m looking at.
In addition to changing the color of the marker, you can add in whatever notes you’d like to each marker. This is incredibly useful as you can add notes about the estimated rent, the current listing price, condition of the house, etc. These notes are really anything you may want to know while you are traveling because they’ll be easily accessible from your Google Maps app on your phone.
You can create as many custom maps as you’d like so title your maps appropriately for later reference. Simply click the title to edit the name. Likewise, you can add a number of layers and title them as you see fit. A layer is just a nice organizational tool to group a set of markers. For example, above I titled my layer “Properties to Visit – Month/Year”. Layers are a nice feature because you can turn them on or off. As you’ll see later in this post, you can add A LOT of information to your map, so at times it’s helpful to turn certain layers off to allow you to focus on what you’re studying.
Adding Boundaries and Areas of Interest
I use Google My Maps for more than just recording houses. I like to denote entire areas of where I want to invest and more importantly, areas to avoid. There are many ways to find the neighborhoods or streets to avoid due to their high crime activity. You can go to City-Data and do a search such as “dangerous areas of BLANK city” to read up on recommendations for areas to avoid. You can also search the opposite question by typing in “good areas of BLANK city”.
Lastly, I’d recommend going onto the Bigger Pockets forums and searching for information about areas to avoid in the city you’re researching. The great thing with Bigger Pockets is that you’re hearing responses from actual investors, agents, and other individuals who are related to real estate investing. More than just reading the responses on the forum posts, I’d connect with some individuals who seem knowledgeable of the area and direct message them to learn more.
One caveat with Bigger Pockets is that you have to be careful and consider who is making the recommendations for certain out-of-state markets. For example, you may hear a turnkey operator describe certain neighborhoods as blue collar, working class whereas someone else who’s not in the business of selling you a home may describe such an area as high risk, high crime. Take recommendations with a grain of salt and be sure to do your own research.
As you can tell, a lot of research will go into studying an out-of-state market before taking a trip out there. Ultimately, all the information I gather will be organized and logged into my custom Google My Map. Doing so makes it incredibly helpful because I can refer back to it while on the go and without having to redo the research each and every time. It’s truly a working document that you’ll add more notes to over time.
So how do we use Google My Maps to help track areas to avoid?
Easy. One way is to keep using markers, but use special icons to denote high crime. From a reference news article, I came across 6 dangerous intersections in Indy that were a hot spot for crime. I then cross-checked this article with another Indy investor, agent, and property manager. I then placed a gun marker at each of these locations as shown below.
Another feature I love to use is the line tool for mapping out entire areas. The line tool allows you to draw a polygon to capture any area you want. You can use it to map out large neighborhoods, zip codes, or even the 9 townships that make up Indianapolis as shown below.
Once I have my reference townships (or zip codes) mapped, I like to focus down to a neighborhood or even street level. Using all the market notes that I’ve come across from online research and talking to others as I described earlier, I start drawing areas to avoid as well as areas to focus on. I use red to denote bad areas to stay out of and green for neighborhoods that I like. Yellow may be a mix of good and bad areas, but still an area I’ll consider investing.
If there are any boundaries such as a street where the neighborhood dramatically changes, I like to mark those as well. For example, the picture below shows a red horizontal line on 38th street where north of it gets remarkably nicer whereas going south gets pretty bad. Also shown are some good and bad areas denoted in green and red.
Uploading a Spreadsheet of Addresses
If you have a ton of properties and you don’t want to add them one by one, rest assured because there’s a faster method.
You can import a spreadsheet that contains a listing of all of your properties and Google My Maps will automatically place a marker on each property for you. You can use an Excel spreadsheet or even Google Sheets.
Here’s an example of the format of my Google sheets I used below.
The one downside with this method is that you can’t color code or add notes to each property separately. So below all the markers are shown as red, but if I want to change the color to say green, then all the properties in this layer would also turn green too.
When on the Road
So you did all the research, spent hours learning your out-of-state market, and built your custom map. Now you’re heading out to visit your market. Rather than printing any of these maps out, as long as you have a smartphone you can take ALL of this information with you.
Just launch your regular Google Maps app on your smart phone and then follow these 3 easy steps to open up your custom Google My Map.
- Click the menu on the upper left.
- Click on “Your places”, which brings a list of your custom maps.
- Select the custom map you’d like to view and you’re set!
Upload Your Driving Routes When Your Trip is Over
In a previous post, I talked about never forgetting what drives you take. Essentially, with a GPS tracking app (such as the free Map My Drive app), you can record all of your drives during your trip. For a detailed tutorial on using this app, you should read the previous post here.
In that post, I explained how you can save the KML (Keyhole Markup Language) file from this app onto your computer or Google Drive. The KML file is just a file format for storing and displaying geographic data in a browser such as Google Maps.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, after your trip you can easily upload your driving routes onto your custom Google My Map! Why does this matter? Well, if you ever wonder what streets you were on, then you now have a way to go back in time and review exactly where you drove.
How to do it?
On a new layer, click “import”, and either upload your KML file from your computer or if you have it stored in your Google Drive, simply select your KML file within My Drive.
Here’s a snapshot of what it will look like if you stored your file on your Google Drive.
And there you have it.
Your drive is uploaded into its own layer. You can zoom-in down to the street level for greater detail.
Google My Maps allows anyone with a Google account to make their own custom maps. As an out-of-state investor, this tool is incredibly useful. It allows an out-of-state investor to efficiently learn a market, record all of their notes both before and after visiting a market, and document their drives as well. Rather than having all your notes scribbled in a notebook or in text format, it allows you to graphically display properties of interest, city or neighborhood boundaries, and areas to either invest or stay out of.
My favorite thing about Google My Maps is that it can be accessed while you are on the road and traveling with a real estate agent or property manager. Since you’ll likely be on a smart phone looking at a map anyways, why not view your location from within your custom Google My Map where all your notes are stored? This way, you’ll further benefit because the properties and neighborhoods you see in person will be in the context of all that research you did prior to your trip.
For a free copy of my custom Google Indianapolis map, click here!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful in supercharging your out-of-state investing research. Comment below and let me know your thoughts.