Md. agency offers software covering property in state

Computer service shows records for city, counties

December 12, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Maryland is offering developers, brokers, community activists and inquisitive neighbors a simpler, cheaper way to sift through computerized property records.

New software called MdProperty Map doesn't require a heavy-duty - and sometimes headache-inducing - geographic information systems program to run, unlike earlier products developed by the state.

Maryland Department of Planning officials expect to reach a wider range of people, including the casual computer users who would nonetheless like to pinpoint all the properties recently sold in their area, zoom in and out on land maps, see how much that mansion up the street is worth and import records into spreadsheets for a little number crunching.

"In a morning, someone can be up and using it," said Michel A. Lettre, the department's director of planning data services, comparing the new offering to the older MdProperty View. "This is ... like riding a bicycle - the other was much more like balancing on a trapeze."

The department officially launched MdProperty Map yesterday but has been selling it since July. So far 110 groups and companies have bought more than 460 compact discs - each county and Baltimore City comes on a separate CD.

The software is free, but the annual subscription for the information is not. MdProperty Map Web Companion - the basic version - costs $75 to $150 per subdivision. The more extensive version, MdProperty Map FINDER, ranges between $95 and $195.

Though hardly cheap, it's not as expensive as the MdProperty View subscription - and that data only runs with a $1,500 geographic systems information (GIS) program.

Anyone can see property values at no cost on a state Web site, www.dat.state.md.us, but the state knows of no free program combining the numbers with computerized interactive maps.

The state is still selling MdProperty View, but Lettre thinks it is impractical for many potential land-record consumers since the main GIS user is the government. He said the new software is already making inroads into new markets.

"This is reaching people that the other never reached," Lettre said. "This is priced where, in theory, even neighborhood associations or community activists could use a product like this."

Most of the people who have purchased MdProperty Map are real estate professionals such as builders, appraisers and brokers. The planning department also distributed copies to government agencies that already subscribe to the older program.

Laura Foussekis, special assistant to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation director, said she appreciated MdProperty Map's ability to combine its tax maps with imported data predicting what areas would be washed out by Tropical Storm Isabel.

"This helped us identify potentially flood-damaged properties," she said. "We love it."

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