4 Maps You Can Use

Looking for land to purchase can be a time-consuming process. On an average day of scouting properties, you may spend more time staring at your windshield than you do actually looking at land.

After burning countless gallons of gas and wasting untold hours of my life, I was determined to find a way to look at a piece of property without actually going to see it. I finally figured it out a few years ago when my wife said, "I don't know why you spend so much time in your truck, when you have all of these maps laying around. And there has to be a way you can use the Internet to at least qualify a property before you invest so much time going to see it."

Pure genius.

Since that moment of enlightenment, I have come to rely on maps as a method for what I call stationary reconnaissance. Of course, many sportsmen are familiar with maps as a scouting tool, but here's a quick tour of the four basic maps I use.

The first is a survey map. It's a dimensional drawing of a piece of property that is prepared by a licensed surveyor who physically measures the distances around the property. The surveyor takes this information and creates a two-dimensional drawing of the property. In addition to physical shape, a survey provides a legal description, determines exact acreage, and documents any boundary line encroachments.

The second map is called a topographical map. A topo map gives you a visual representation of the lay of the land, providing a three-dimensional look at land in a two-dimensional image. Contour lines within the boundaries show changes in elevation in increments of anywhere from 2 to 200 feet. Contour lines drawn very far apart represent a gentle slope, while contour lines drawn very close together means there is a steeper slope. Topo maps also identify the highest points on a property, as well as lowlands or wet lands.

The third tool is an aerial map. These are available at the county tax assessor's office, but are also readily accessible through a variety of online sources. Aerial maps are simply an aerial photo. They allow you to inspect not only the boundaries but also the characteristics of the land. You can see timber, open areas, creeks, ponds and wetlands.

Most aerial photos are taken during the winter when pines (being evergreens) are still green. So from an aerial you know that the green areas are probably pine, and the gray or brown areas are typically hardwood. In infrared aerials, the pines will appear red. With an aerial you can make some distinctions about what is physically on the property, and just as important, you can note what is around the property. You can see, for example, if the neighbors have six chicken houses located just upwind of the exact spot where you were planning to build your retirement getaway or your weekend retreat.

The final tool is a timber type map. Timber type maps are usually prepared by a forester as part of a "timber cruise." While not typically available through public sources, many landowners, real-estate agents and foresters can provide them. They are routinely available for any property owned by timber companies. These maps show the boundary lines where the types of timber change on a tract. Acreage, timber type (species) and age class are usually provided for each area or "stand" of timber.

Try using maps yourself for a little stationary reconnaissance. You can learn a lot about a piece of property without ever visiting it, without spending a penny on gas, and without wasting any time staring at your windshield.

Don Webb is the author of "Maximizing The Land Ownership Experience" and president of Greenwood Land Company, which provides land acquisition and consulting services. Contact him at (706) 575-4178 or go online to www.greenwoodproject.com.

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