Google maps is not a tool that people would often associate as being useful for helping build their property portfolio or even just to help search for a new property to live in.

However Google maps can be invaluable in taking a first look at a property before a viewing, reviewing a property and its area if you are not local, or identifying any potential issues in the surrounding area.

I’m sure you will have used Google maps, or one of the various other map tools before. But if not it is very easy. Simply enter the Postcode or street name of the property you are investigating in the search box.

So how can Google Maps help?

The way to use google maps as a tool is to become a detective. You are looking at clues that will either give you a positive view or a potentially negative view about a property. Whether something you find is negative will depend on who the target market for the house is.

1. Review the surrounding area for local amenities. Look for railway stations, bus stops, shopping centres and access to the key motorway network or road system.

2. Review the surrounding area for potential points of concern. Is there a Football ground nearby that could cause parking problems? Is there a railway line nearby?

3. Read user information about the area: By selecting

you can choose to view entries from Wikipedia that will give you some background to the area.

4. Switch to Satellite View: This is a valuable option that displays an ariel photo and can display many more clues than just the map. Is that empty area on a map actually a big car park or lorry park right behind the property? Does the property face away from or towards a positive or negative landmark (railway line or lake)? Does the rear of the house have access or does the front have parking?

5. Help identify the exact house: If you know the house number then Google maps can help a bit further. If you see a number of rows of houses in the satellite view but are not sure which is the property you’re investigating, right click over the houses and select ‘What’s here?’ Most of the time you are displayed a range of house numbers to help narrow your search.

6. View videos/pictures/Webcams of the area. Google Maps links in with YouTube, Panoramio and webcams.travel. Again by selecting the More option you can choose which you want to look at and these can help get an understanding of the area.

7. Take a Walk around the surrounding area: No I haven’t lost it! Street View is a function that is available in a number of the main cities (see here for the current list). You are able to view images at street level allowing you to see exactly what a house or area is like from the outside – obviously not in real time so things could have changed.

All in all Google Maps provide a number of ways to investigate an investment prior to stepping out of the door. If your investigation identifies some concerns then go drive around the investment area and check them out, or better still do this at the same time as your viewing.

Of course some of the techniques outlined above are not specific to Google maps and most of the other online map tools will do the similar. Most people have their favourite so look at some of the alternatives: Multimap, Streetmap, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps