Business Management

How to Build a House Hunting Database to Find & Track Deals

Expertise: Personal Development
15 Articles Written

[Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared in the BiggerPockets Member Blogs.]

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” – James Harrington

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Wise words, but unfortunately I didn’t follow them when I began my real estate journey.

Before I bought my first property in Sacramento, I would drive for two and a half hours to Sacramento almost every weekend for 6 months. Unfortunately, I didn’t create a system to track: the 100+ houses I previewed, what I thought of those houses, and more importantly, I didn’t create a system to track the condition of the neighborhoods I visited. This was a huge mistake, and it wasted my time, gas, and sanity.

What is a System?

A system is a set of procedures that lead to a desired result. Have you ever noticed that no matter which Starbucks your visit, the drink you order is virtually identical to any previous order? That’s the result of a healthy system. A well constructed system creates consistency, saves time, and leads to a repeatable desired result. Without these systems, you will find yourself spinning your wheels, and you won’t know how to evaluate your decisions.

Related: 7 Irresistible Ways to Find House Flips With Real Estate Agents

Beginning your real estate journey, you need to create systems with repeatable processes to create consistent outputs, and if you intend to survive in real estate, you need these systems to track what matters — be it a system to track potential fixers, buy and hold prospects, or potential wholesale deals.

Our First System: A Housing Database

A housing database is an example of a system. Without a housing database, you have no way of knowing which houses you visited, when you visited them, what you thought of the price at that time, what you were willing to offer, and more importantly, the status of the neighborhood.

Can you remember the house you previewed 3 years ago? Yes, we can all remember that one meth house we visited or the cat lady’s house that reeked, but can we remember the less noteworthy houses? More importantly, can you remember the condition of these houses? And the condition of the surrounding area?

Memories fade, waistlines grow, hair recedes (thanks, dad), and sadly, houses that could have provided us with steady income are forgotten. Yet properly built systems can last the test of time.

Once you create your database you will have the ability to quickly plug in a house into this database to do the following:

  • Prescreen houses you find from the MLS, realtors, or wholesalers.
  • Save valuable time and money from visiting a house in an undesirable area.
  • Begin the due diligence process on a house before seeing it in person.
  • Have a record of all of the offers you have made on houses and the sellers reaction to your offer.
  • Track homeowners who are considering selling their homes months from now and the last time you have checked in with them.

This allows you to put perspective in what you are purchasing. More importantly, this is one of the first system you should create as an investor to develop the systems mindset. The systems mindset builds discipline, which allows you to improve your operations, scale your business, and eventually teach a vendor or employee your system so you can focus on other projects.

Related: MLS Bargain Hunting: Tips and Tricks (Part 1)

Creating Your First System: A House Hunting Database

There are numerous ways you can create a house hunting database: You can use a pen and paper, a physical map, websites, or excel spreadsheets. I wanted to focus on one simple system I’ve been using, but hey, if you know of a better way of doing this, please let me know!

Now, with Google’s MyMaps you can easily create a personalized real estate map to track all of the houses you previewed:

  • Create a new map titled “Real Estate.”
  • Enter the address of a house you recently previewed.
  • Select a pin type. I use the following types of pins:
    • House Pin: The property you own.
    • Red Pin: The property you previewed but decided to skip.
    • Green Pin: The property you will or have made an offer on.
    • Bar Graph with Arrow: Neighborhood which meets your criteria.
  • In the notes section of your pin you can list:
    • The condition of the house.
    • Condition of the surrounding neighborhood.
    • Listing price.
    • Your offer.
    • The date you visited the area.

This is just one of the many ways to use MyMaps to track your Real Estate prospects. Feel free to tailor this system to your individual needs.

Do you use other methods for tracking homes you preview?

If so, let me know. Happy Hunting!

Jordan Thibodeau is a tech employee and real estate investor. While working with his father, Jordan learned the family business of real estate investing and made his first real estate investment in 2013 when he purchased a duplex in Sacramento. Jordan went on to form the Silicon Valley Investors Club, which is one of the largest investing clubs for current and former tech employees with nearly 6,000 members. He wrote a popular BP blog post that has helped numerous full-time employees get started in real estate investing. He writes a monthly investment newsletter called Investors Therapy that helps investors understand psychology in order to make better investment decisions. His writing has appeared on Forbes and Thrive Global. Also, Jordan has interviewed or hosted some of America’s top thought leaders and investors such as Ray Dalio, Anne Wojcicki, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, Annie Duke, Ben Horowitz, and Eric Barker to learn about human psychology and its impact on investment decisions.

    Jeffrey Gordon Investor from Spokane, Washington
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks, this is a great first step, but after seeing a recommendation in the forums, I have been using the free version of http://www.batchgeo.com the last week and would suggest not starting wtih google maps but rather going straight to BatchGeo.com. It is very easy to use and you can take an excel file with any type of data in the cells and import it directly into batch geo with a simple copy/past action. Allows links to URL’s and images. The only thing it really lacks in the free version is the ability to filter more selections—i.e. you might have to create different maps with different single item filters to show house you liked vs ones you didnt. check it out.
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    MyMaps takes in “CSV, TSV, KML, or XLSX files, classic My Maps, or spreadsheets from Google Drive”: https://support.google.com/mymaps/answer/3024836?hl=en Also, note BatchGeo is a wrapper around Google Maps, so not sure what the added value is, perhaps maybe the validation step?
    Jeffrey Gordon Investor from Spokane, Washington
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks Andres, I am not sure what added value it has either, just saw a recommendation on BP when I was looking for a way to visually map property data records. I am not paying for BatchGeo and find the free version with ads is not a create viewer experience because of screen crowding etc. is the validation step when you can move a pin that is not in the right location? The other limitation i see to batchgeo is the ability to only run a single filter at a time. It would be nice to run a number of filters simultaneously and map the results, but i am guessing that becomes a more sophisticated tool etc. I will check out MyMaps as I am not very familiar with it. But I am now in the first stages of testing Google Apps for Work and hoping that i will be able to consolidate my file storage, website management tasks and collaborative projects into one single google login dashboard–my life would be a lot less confusing!! j
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I think the validation step means having the BatchGeo interface flag any incorrect addresses and making a recommendation. I tried only using one address and “corrupting” it, but no luck. With MyMaps here’s what worked: 1. Created a Google Drive Spreadsheet 2. Had to make sure the column headers were in the first row 3. I added one extra column at the beginning of the spreadsheet called “Nickname” which will be the title of the marker. Otherwise, Google will use the other column headers to locate the exact address, and have no other column to title the marker, and the import wizzard will get stuck at this step. 4. Google does do a great job of flagging markers it couldn’t find their, but haven’t seen a recommendation. Also, it might do a really good job of finding a marker based on the closet location it “can find”, such as only city name, or zip code. So just keep an eye out for the quality of where your markers do end up. And yes, I’m also all about Google drive products, my MO is digitize, consolidate, and make thing as searchable and cross “linkable” (e.g. Google Sites, or online Wikis) as possible. Oh, and spacial visualization of course.
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    *there 🙂
    Arica Savannah Investor from Dallas, Texas
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Thanks Jordan! This came just when I was working on my own system! It’s much simpler than what I had in mind! Thanks for sharing!
    Jordan Thibodeau Rental Property Investor from San Jose, CA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    You’re welcome! Let me know how it works.
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I’ve also been using MyMaps’ “draw a line tool” to overlay farm areas for better visualization.
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    MyMaps also has a layer tool, so you can toggle on and off the display of points of interest (POIs) relative to properties in question. One thing they seemed to have dropped though, is the ability to quick add points from standard Google Maps to My Maps, which is a shame, because there are tools that are on Google Maps but not on My Maps such as historical traffic patterns. I posted the question here though: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!categories/maps/feature-suggestions/custom-maps/mac
    Account Closed Investor from Denver, Colorado
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Google Earth Pro has traffic pattern overlays, among many others like parcel data, etc. Here’s a shot of the layers palette – https://cloudup.com/cTSm8ie-dR7
    Andres Narvaez from Playa Del Rey, California
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Very nice. Google Earth has a browser plugin too, that back in the day, you could jump to when visiting Google Maps. Wonder if it would have the same functionality for pro users so you wouldn’t have to leave your browser (Jason was showcasing the desktop software Google Earth btw): https://support.google.com/earth/answer/178389?hl=en Either way, you can export your rich Google Earth maps as .kml files (standard GIS format) and import into your web powered My Maps for 24/7 sharing.
    Jonathan Roylance from Centerville, Utah
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    I wasn’t aware of MyMaps through Google, so thank you for introducing me to it. It looks like it will be a great tool to use. And might I say that I LOVE GOOGLE!
    Jordan Thibodeau Rental Property Investor from San Jose, CA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Great. Let me know how it works out for you.
    Daniel Morgan Real Estate Investor from Springfield, Massachusetts
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Wow Jordan great article! Im def going use the MyMaps feat from google, what a great way to track your steps and moves with Real Estate. Keep up the great work Thanx
    Jordan Thibodeau Rental Property Investor from San Jose, CA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    You’re welcome Daniel. Let me know how it works for you.
    Account Closed Investor from Denver, Colorado
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Google Earth Pro is now free, if you want to really dig into your farm areas from another perspective. https://www.google.com/work/mapsearth/products/earthpro.html
    Daniel Ryu Specialist from Irvine, CA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Very nice! How do you change pins? I have the option to “Add” but no pin options?
    Daniel Ryu Specialist from Irvine, CA
    Replied almost 5 years ago
    Nevermind. Just figured it out. the little paint bucket icon ^^
    Ben Staples Investor from Malden, MA
    Replied over 4 years ago
    This is a pretty great tool I had no idea about previously. Thanks for sharing.
    Lee Northrop Investor from Stockport, Greater Manchester
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thanks for sharing the my maps system Jordan, started using it straight away and it’s great. Will recommend to my investing partners Merry Christmas lee northrop UK england
    Michael McCormick Investor from Rome, Georgia
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    I like this tracking system but I cannot figure out how to change or choose the pin type. All mine are red and I see no paint bucket icon. Can someone help show me how? Thanks in advance!
    Ben Staples Investor from Malden, MA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Michael. Definitely understandable. Once you’ve created a pin, look on the left side of the screen where it will say the address. If you hover over the address of the pin you just created with your mouse, slightly to the right as you’re hovering you’ll see a little diamond (it’s half white half black). Clicking this will let you change the color. Hope that helps
    Ben Staples Investor from Malden, MA
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Hey Michael. Definitely understandable. Once you’ve created a pin, look on the left side of the screen where it will say the address. If you hover over the address of the pin you just created with your mouse, slightly to the right as you’re hovering you’ll see a little diamond (it’s half white half black). Clicking this will let you change the color. Hope that helps
    Michael McCormick Investor from Rome, Georgia
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Thank you Ben!
    Roberto Martinez Rental Property Investor from Albuquerque, NM
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Great article, and loving the comments too. This will save me so much time! Can’t thank you all enough.