June 29, 2009
First American Tackles the National Cadastre
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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
First American Tackles the National Cadastre
By Susan Smith
A National Cadastre for the U.S. has been recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for decades, but it is only recently that such a map of property locations is close to being realized. There are approximately 140 million parcels in the country, a number that has been daunting to technology and hindered by lack of cooperation between federal, state, county and municipal governments. Until recently, the project has not received adequate funding.
First American Spatial Solutions (FASS), a company that formerly was associated with insurance and still has deep roots in that market segment, is said to be the first entity to create a multipurpose cadastre that provides the digital fabric to understand this level of property ownership in the United States.
FASS built the National Parcel Database in order to address problems they were trying to solve with regard to their flood risk assessment products.
“We’ve continued to add more and more parcels to the database and it just continues to increase the data quality of all products,” said Scott Little, vice president and general manager of First American Spatial Solutions Division. In a recent acquisition, FASS acquired a geocoder and they have incorporated all the parcels into the geocoder to increase their data quality and our accuracy. Little said the parcel database now improves their other products.
“We’re now at the point with our digital parcel database where we’ve been able to obtain and normalize 120 million parcels, and best estimate from multiple researches, there are between 140 and 150 million digital parcels within the U.S. At this point at the next release we will be at 120 million.” The data has been quality controlled and includes a maintenance plan to keep the data up to date.
Little said that by building out digital parcel layers they’ve been able to license that information to companies in multiple verticals. With the parcel data, customers will be able to pinpoint exact locations and then use information related to the property within their business processes. In the past companies were limited by using an interpolated geocode where they knew from a location standpoint that they could get on the right street but not necessarily to the right house. “Without that level of confidence they’re not able to take that decision making to the next level,” Little pointed out.
Parcels are most commonly defined in real estate as a “lot” or a “tract” and have defined and surveyed boundaries (or property lines), are typically documented within a county or township along with the ownership and tax information. According to the press materials, FASS has converted digital and paper maps, as well as legal descriptions, from most of the nation’s counties into a single standardized spatial database called ParcelPoint. The parcels in this database also provide the exact area and associated latitudes and longitudes that are vital in identifying the property’s exact position on Earth.
The milestone of reaching the 120 million number on the digital parcel layers coupled with the acquisition of the geocoder has made a vast difference to FASS. “The geocoder was written in a way we were able to take the parcel data and use it as the layer within the geocoder,” explained Little. “So now when we geocode properties using our PxPoint geocoder we’re able to geocode addresses to the parcel level. By having 120 million parcels, a majority of the addresses that are now entered into our system, instead of going to a zip code level or what’s called a zip plus four segment level, now when somebody entrees an address they’re being put on a
rooftop. That’s for 120 million properties in the U.S. For navigation, 911 routing, underwriting, taxes, we have between PxPoint Geocoder and ParcelPoint a way now to get them to derive answers on a property basis instead of a neighborhood basis. From a strategy point with everything being based on accuracy and specific location, customers can incorporate our technology to develop more powerful solutions for their particular vertical.”
The geocoder has two functions within it – first is pure address standardization, e.g., somebody enters the address and it breaks the address down, then basically puts it back together in a way that is recognizable. The second function is once you have a standard address then you match that address against whatever data you have to assign a latitude and longitude. “For that second stage of geocoding now instead of going to a street segment which would lay out the range of the lat and long for the street, now once they have a standardized address we can give them a specific lat long that equates to the centroid of that rooftop of that parcel,” said Little. “In a
typical geocoder there would be one lat and long that represents all twelve properties in a street with 12 houses on it. Now you have one lat and long for each of the 12 properties.”
Little makes the point that if you’re looking at the values of the house, or damage, when an insurance policy may be up for renewal, if you have the same point for all 12 properties, you’re very limited from a analytical standpoint for what you can do with that property. “If you have a specific point for every one of those 12 properties, there’s a lot that you can do and a lot of information you can provide to individuals to help them make better decisions.”
“With the property specific data for over 100 we have provided, plus the different geospatial spatial layers that we’ve acquired with the Proxix acquisition, the ones we’ve built along with the geocoder and the parcel level, now we’re really starting to develop solutions into different markets,” said Little. First American has been working with ESRI to develop an underwriting solution within insurance for their users.
First American updates digital parcels for the entire country, 3,000 jurisdictions that are changing parcels, storing it in one database. The fact that they use the data within their own operations to drive efficiency of the company as a whole, using their own internal GIS applications. The National Parcel Database should have a significant impact on both public- and private-sector companies that want to use geographic information to improve the accuracy of a variety of products and services.
Note: correction in last week’s industry news: Attendance at Intergraph 2009 was at last count approximately 1500.
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