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Use Google Earth Historic Images for Land Due Diligence

How to Use Google Earth When Buying Land

Hey, today, we’re going to look at Google Earth and how you can use it as a tool to complete due diligence on a property’s history. So if you’re buying land or you’ve already bought land, you can find out what happened on the property before you owned it. We’ll also discuss how we used this tool to help us find a septic system we didn’t know the location of.

Google Earth Pro Desk Top Version

You first want to ensure you have the desktop version of Google Earth Pro installed; you won’t be able to access the history feature without this. So you cannot get this by going into your browser and using an online version. Once you access Google Earth, you’ll see a timelapse where it goes back in time; that’s what we’ll discuss today. So that’s the history feature. Type in the address you want to search and hit the search button. Once you do your search, you’ll be able to look at all the property’s angles.

Middleton, Idaho Property

The example we’re using is a particular property in Middleton, Idaho. Now the time-lapse you’re looking at will always default to the most current picture the satellites have taken. So this property has a home that needs to be demolished. You’ll get a history of this and find out that there were trailers and other junk on the property too.

Locating the Septic System Using Google Earth History

So our goal with this timelapse was to go back and look for the septic system. Inside the home was a cleanout, but there was no cleanout outside the house. There’s a slab foundation, so there is no subfloor where you can check to see where the pipes are going. So we went to the history tab and clicked on the property history, where we found that 8/2021 was the last picture taken of the home. As you go back, each line is another picture. Some photos are better quality than others; back in 2018, it was a lot better.

Before the Home Was Abandoned

On 10 of 2002, there were two mobile homes on the property and an old barn that burned down in addition to the shop and house. The house still has the roof, which has been torn off now; it was tin, and we think it was vandalized. So while looking at the photo, we saw a green area where the leach lines are for the septic system. So by looking at this aerial of the history map, we can know where the septic tank was. So we dug around and located the septic tank, which appears to be in good condition and can be utilized. By looking back at the history, we were able to locate this.

How We Determined When the Home Was Abandoned

If we look at other photos, for example, 10 of 2003, the trailers are still there, and on 6 of 2005, you can still see the green area of the leach field because the house has not been abandoned. The roof is on the home, and the mobile homes are still on the property. So it appears people were still living there at that time. So if we look at a photo from 6 of 2007, the mobile homes have been moved from the property, and there is no green leach field, which means there has been no water usage. Knowing this information, it would appear that the home on the property has been abandoned since that point.

Why the Leach Field Helps Determine When a Home is Abandoned

No one has been utilizing this because this system is likely tied into the piping system. There is a line running down and tied into the septic using the leach field. We haven’t figured out if the leach field was put there or tied in because there’s quite a bit of fall, so it’s possible. So there’s a tie in there, but it appears abandoned. At this point, you could not find the leach field based on what we did by looking at the green areas, but you can if someone was occupying the home.

Historic Image Progression for Land Due Diligence

So the home was abandoned, then the deterioration started and was vandalized. Initially, the house was in good shape, but the roof got torn off, is what the neighbors told us, which led to further deterioration. The shop is the same scenario; the tin was pulled off and started to rot away. So actually, from 2007 to today, it’s become a complete teardown of the house because of losing the roof and being in the weather. There’s no green here because that septic system has not been utilized since 2007. And then, you can see the progression of the images as they go. So they tend to get better; a few of them are not quite as good, but as the years go on, they get better and better satellite images. So you can tell when it’s winter versus actual springtime based on the trees losing their leaves.


So that is how we found the septic system on this property, utilizing the Google Earth history feature. So again, make sure you go back and download the desktop version. Then take a look at the property with different timeframes. It will often go back to 1985; you can see where there are roads and when they were cut. And then remember also that you can view the property from all angles, so it helps to do that.

Using Google Earth to Determine the Timeline of Home Updates and Permits

That is a quick overview of how to use Google Earth to look at the history of your property. So another thing you can utilize the history of Google Earth is to look up a property and see if structures are permitted. So many times, you’ll look at an old home, and it’s been added onto several times, and you won’t be able to find records of the permits down at the county or the city building departments. So you can go back and look at these images and see when the original roof was there and when they possibly added the new one. So that’ll give you a timeline of what you can do to look for records and determine if something was permitted. So that’s another thing you can use Google Earth for that can help you.

Contact Real Property for More Information

If you need more information on building, buying, or selling a home or land, feel free to contact us. Have an excellent rest of your day.

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