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November 2, 2018
GIS Overlays
This picture is from the Buncombe County, NC GIS system and shows steep slope and protected ridgelines on a portion of this property.

Land brokers rely on many tools to help clients understand their property and these sometimes include a variety of systems provided by county governments such as robust Geographic Information System (GIS) tools that can help landowners understand the property better. This blog post uses several counties in the mountains of Western North Carolina as examples, but most every county across the nation will have some sort of similar system for the public to use.

Since each county in the region has different GIS tools, there is a bit of a learning curve to understand them all. However, Buncombe County and Henderson County tend to be the most updated and offer the most information. Madison, Yancy, Mitchell, McDowell, Rutherford, Polk, Transylvania, and Haywood Counties have GIS tools as well, but they vary greatly in available overlays, and some are infrequently updated.

Generally speaking, each of these tools allows users to find a property based on address, owner, or Property Identification Number (PIN). From there you can see the approximate (not surveyed) boundary. You can also turn on or off layers such as satellite images, topography contours, surface water, zoning, and other overlays. Many of these are useful for researching the property’s features.


Most systems allow users to overlay Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) developed flood maps. There are options to see the floodway (the area most likely to flood, development is normally prohibited), the 100-year floodplain (where a flood would be expected every 100 years on average), and the 500-year floodplain. It’s generally inadvisable to build any structures in these areas, but they could be used for agriculture and conservation.


Some counties offer slope analysis or zoning information. Buncombe County has an overlay called “County Zoning Overlay” that allows you to see what portions of the parcel are zoned as steep slopes and what portions are protected ridgelines. These areas will require additional permitting and some uses may be restricted.  Henderson County has a slope overlay that identifies where slopes are 0-16%, 16-25%, 25-60% or over 60% based on colors. And Rutherford County allows for a slope overlay that estimates slopes in 10% increments.


Haywood and Mitchell Counties allow for an overlay to see which lands have been placed in conservation easements.


Buncombe County also has a stability index map overlay that shows where there is a low, moderate, or high risk of hazard for landslides and other earth instability.


Knowing how to access these tools can help landowners and buyers understand more about what is possible on a property. They provide valuable information that can be used for planning and decision making.

I help my clients understand land and provide them with education and knowledge to make informed decisions. I also ensure they are working with the right legal, surveying, soil and landslide consultants, foresters, and other professionals to protect their interests and their land. If you’re looking for a professional land broker or need help understanding land issues like this, let me know! Pat Snyder,

About the Author
Pat Snyder joined National Land Realty in 2018. Pat is a retired US Air Force Officer with over 20 years of service and has several years of real estate experience. He is a Realtors Land Institute (RLI) member, Certified Negotiations Expert, and a Military Relocation Professional. He also serves as a board member on the Asheville Rotary Club and Blue Ridge Honor Flight. As a Land Professional in Western North Carolina, Pat enjoys educating clients on land sales and purchases and hiking properties with them. He also likes to work with other professionals to help his clients understand the opportunities and challenges of a land transaction, and help sellers get their land to stand out as an exceptional property to buyers before hitting the market. Pat holds a MA in Military Operational Arts and Science from Air University, a MS in Information Management Technology from Grantham University, and a BS in Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Pat enjoys spending time hiking, doing volunteer work and cooking. He and his wife Michelle have a son, Barrett, and a dog named Bacon. View Pat's Listings and Reviews on