A GPS-Enabled, One-Stop Shop for Everything Real Estate

Blanchard, Washington, in Skagit County

Blanchard, Washington, in Skagit County Joyful Designs / Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

In Washington state, Skagit County employee workloads are down and iMap hits are up.

When new computer technologies were picking up steam in 1995, the Almvig brothers brainstormed a one-stop, online shop for the Information Technology, Geographic Information System and Assessor’s offices in Skagit County, Washington. Since then, it’s been an ever-evolving concept.

Mobility was only the most recent upgrade to the county’s iMap, which allows users to identify nearby property parcels using their phone’s GPS and pull up all relevant assessment and permitting details.

The county’s IT director, Mike Almvig, and GIS manager, Jeff Almvig, wanted to digitize records to improve employee efficiency. Within six months of the 2001 launch of iMap, activity at some county offices became near-dead.

“The Assessor’s Office is kind of like the Maytag man now—there once were lines there, but now there’s almost nothing to do,” Jeff Almvig said in an interview. “The apps we provide profoundly affected how people were getting information.”

With iMap, residents and real estate agents can pick a parcel and get one to two week’s worth of documents in a second. The tool gets about 7,000 hits daily, according to Mike Almvig. When the site goes down, which is rare, bankers, who use its sales comparisons to process loan apps, and even portable toilet delivery crews complain.

The county creates electronic records like deeds as a natural course of business, which Laserfiche geocodes with latitude and longitude, township section or parcel number and replicates to the government’s website. That way, documents come up instantly on iMap.

Records are available to the public within 24 hours, making iMap more up-to-date than real estate websites like Zillow, which rely on the government for information like sales history. And the GIS Office maintains government maps on a daily basis.

“We understood we can mash data together and create one system out of many systems for the same look and feel across all datasets,” Mike Almvig said.

Most counties and cities have separate, disjointed permitting, appraisal and tax collection document systems, he added, so you have to find the property number in the appraisal system to look up information in another.

Skagit County claims to be the nation’s first county government to create an interactive crime map in 2005 that updates as the 911 calls come in, and Almvigs seek that kind of transparency with every new app developed.

The county is supplying residents with the data they need to have a discussion, Mike Almvig said, and to the layman it all seems like one, easy-to-use site.

“We have a lot of different technologies writing underneath our applications, but to the end user it’s seamless,” he said. “We’re giving the public the same tools we use internally to do a lot of this work.”

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.
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