Essential GIS Features for Location Insights in Commercial Real Estate

In an era where data drives decision-making, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have proven to be an asset across various fields. Particularly in commercial real estate (CRE).

GIS technology has revolutionized the way CRE professionals analyze, strategize, and make informed decisions.

It offers a clear understanding of property locations and surrounding demographics.  

As a CRE professional, it helps to have a general understanding of how GIS features are leveraged to extract location insights. We’ve put together this guide to help you navigate your way through the complexity of the GIS features available.

Understanding the Basics of GIS and its CRE Application

A GIS is a software program that maps relevant information to geographic locations.
In other words, it allows layers of seemingly unrelated data to be connected to a specific place. As a result, spatial patterns and relationships are revealed.

As such, it can provide powerful insights to its users across many industries.

In commercial real estate, GIS provides insights and analysis relating to property locations. CRE professionals use this vital information to make data-backed, well-informed decisions.  

A GIS mapping system is made up of several components including:

People

People feature in a GIS in two ways. People like CRE brokers, developers, and investors are the core users of the system.

Much of the data in a GIS is about people too. Typically, in the form of demographics (age, race, gender, income, education) and psychographics (opinions, beliefs, lifestyles, interests, values).

This data helps users of a GIS to understand trends in the behavior of people who are in various locations.

In commercial real estate, GIS users can learn how many people visit certain locations, and at what time.
Retailers, for example, might study the age, gender and income level of the people that visit their stores, to better adapt their marketing plans.  

Data

Data forms the building blocks of a GIS. Data exists in two types of formats:  

  • Spatially referenced data such as maps – in raster and vector format.
  • Information about the mapped features called attribute data – in table format.

Hardware and Software

GIS mapping systems usually take the form of powerful computer software. They need robust computer hardware with plenty of processing capacity, memory, and storage space. To see detailed maps and spatial data, high-resolution screens also come in handy.  

Limited hardware capabilities can sometimes hinder the performance of GIS software. Today, however, many GIS analytics platforms have shifted to the cloud.

This minimizes the need for expensive hardware. Thus, these software platforms are accessible to a broader range of users. Some platforms also offer mobile apps for easy access to GIS analytics anywhere, anytime.

No two GIS platforms are identical. It’s crucial to select a system that caters to the specific nuances of your industry. CRE-specific software, like AlphaMap, exists to help commercial real professionals with:  

  • High-level analysis
  • Market research
  • Detailed location insights

Key GIS Features

The key benefit of GIS is that it allows for high-level analysis of the various data in the system. Here are some of the typical analytics features a GIS would provide:  

Map Visualization

GIS allows for complex datasets to be visually presented in a simple, compact format. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is particularly true for GIS.

A GIS map might feature many layers of different types of data (demographics, topographical, and other statistical data to name a few) on top of each other at one specific location point.

It would be impossible to make sense of all this data in a textbook format. Visually you can see how the different layers relate to each other. This reveals trends and patterns that might be otherwise unknown.

Different map visualizations could include thematic, chloropleth, and heatmaps. In CRE, a thematic map might be used to portray land use patterns; a chloropleth map might be used to visualize population density by using color to represent the statistical variable; a heatmap might be used to show foot traffic in a shopping district. These are just a few of the many kinds of map visualizations available.  

Spatial Analysis Tools

Spatial analysis is a vital GIS feature. These tools help GIS users to examine, model, and interpret location-based data. In commercial real estate, spatial analysis tools help CRE professionals to make smart, data-backed decisions.

There are several types of spatial analyses that can be conducted with a suitable GIS tool:

  • Market analysis/research enables CRE investors to understand the performance and trends of their specific market sector. This is essential when considering potential property purchases.  
  • Buffer analysis can help determine market potential and accessibility by identifying properties within certain distances from amenities or new developments.  
  • Gap analysis identifies market voids for specific types of businesses, aiding in finding ideal locations for new ventures and/or suitable tenants.  
  • Trade area analysis helps retailers identify the geographic area from which they draw their customers, which is essential for market engagement strategies.  
  • Foot traffic analysis helps retail businesses understand pedestrian movement and behavior around specific locations.

Data Management Features

A GIS mapping system provides a space to store, manage, and manipulate large amounts of complex data. It needs to be able to store data of various types, from varying sources.

Most GIS software can be integrated with external data sources like demographic or traffic data, for example.

Data in a GIS needs to be stored safely and securely, and users should be able to easily retrieve it through a user-friendly interface. A good GIS provides robust features for transforming and analyzing data so that users can make meaning out it.

For CRE professionals, a GIS analytics platform provides access to a treasure trove of market information, location insights, and customer behavior trends.

Many GIS platforms also provide the ability to generate reports which includes visuals to represent the data.
These reports can be vital marketing tools for CRE brokers to share with their clients.  

Mobile GIS and Real-time Data

Mobile GIS has revolutionized the ability to access location insights for CRE professionals, in two ways:

Data Collection

In today’s modern world, foot traffic data can be collected through mobile GPS tracking devices like smartphones. AlphaMap, a powerful GIS analytics tool, taps into over 130 million smartphones to estimate foot traffic trends and rankings.

To enhance accuracy of the data collected, AlphaMap collaborates with three top-tier mobile data companies and creates a combined estimate that takes advantage of each provider’s unique strengths. The result is a larger and more accurate data sample.

Mobile Apps

Many GIS analytics platforms have accompanying mobile apps which give users access to property location insights on the go. They allow for greater productivity, and ease-of-use as the information is always at your fingertips, instead of locked away in the office.

3D Capabilities

Some GIS platforms also include 3D visualization.

3D visualization can add depth to location analysis both literally and figuratively.
Urban planners and architects, for example, might find a 3D visualization that simulates building shadows or analyzes the views from a specific location, highly informative.

For CRE professionals, understanding how the three-dimensional lay of the land influences the value of a specific location is important too. 3D tools can also make it possible to visualize locations without the need for an in-person visit.  

How GIS Features Apply to CRE: The Case of AlphaMap

AlphaMap is a leading commercial real estate location insights platform that leverages GIS analytics. Some of AlphaMap’s comprehensive GIS features include:

Map Explorer

AlphaMap’s Map Explorer feature offers powerful map visualization of your chosen location. Here you can access property records, zoning information, demographics, car traffic, trade areas, location and area visits, and more.

It’s an incredibly intuitive and user-friendly interface, akin to using Google Maps but with specific CRE features.

You can also run high-level analyses from the Map Explorer such as trade area analysis and foot traffic analysis. Information can be visualized in different map formats like heatmaps, or you can define your own areas using custom shapes.  

TenantFinder™  

AlphaMap’s TenantFinder™ can help you find high-quality tenants for your commercial property or run a void analysis to determine which retail brands would be most suitable to your location.

Using advanced algorithms and analytics, TenantFinder™ matches your property with suitable businesses in its large database of pre-qualified candidates.

Reports

Create and download dynamic reports with AlphaMap’s built-in templates or create your own. Use the reports in presentations or proposals for clients or lenders.

Mobile App

AlphaMap’s intuitive features are also available via a mobile app so that CRE professionals can access all these GIS features on the go too.

Imagine access to advanced demographics, property information, zoning data and maps, and high-level analyses, all in the palm of your hand, whenever and wherever you need it.  

Final Thoughts on Essential GIS Features for CRE

With the ability to visually map complex datasets and carry out high-level analyses, GIS tools have changed the game for CRE professionals.

Whether it's selecting a property for investment, identifying the perfect tenant, or gaining a comprehensive understanding of a location's potential, GIS is a tool that gives a competitive edge.

Selecting the right tool, equipped with essential GIS features that unlock access to vital location-based information, is key. This is where empowering yourself through knowledge comes in.

When armed with the right information, you position yourself ahead of the curve, ready to navigate the uncertainties of the future with confidence.

Recommended reading

How We Have Seen Obsolescence in Commercial Real Estate

How We Have Seen Obsolescence in Commercial Real Estate

Our tool is designed to arm CRE professionals with the means to fight the threat of automation in the CRE space.

July 5, 2023
How to Choose the Best Retail Business Location Using GIS Analytics

How to Choose the Best Retail Business Location Using GIS Analytics

A retail business location is the cornerstone of success for any retailer. Learn how to use GIS analytics tools to find the perfect spot.

January 26, 2023
How to Calculate Price per Square Foot

How to Calculate Price per Square Foot

Discover the importance of price per square foot in commercial real estate. Compare properties, assess value, and maximize your ROI.

September 14, 2023