How to Find Your Property Lines and Why It’s Important
Most homeowners have a pretty good idea of where their property ends and their neighbor’s begins. But when it comes to a yard’s exact boundaries in a legal sense, “pretty good” is not good enough. Finding property lines for your house is particularly important when getting ready to sell. Buyers need to know precisely what they are getting—and not getting—along with the house.
Learning how to find property lines is not difficult. The information is often in a homeowner’s records from when they purchased the home. If it isn’t, there are easy ways to find them if you know where to look.
The Origin of Your Property Lines
A builder or developer determines the property lines in neighborhoods and subdivisions during construction. In a new subdivision, for example, the developer divides the land into lots, marking their precise boundaries on something called a plat map. A survey team measures out each lot, driving an iron bar down into the ground at each corner. These survey pins serve as a clear marker for the property lines.
Why You Need to Know Your Property Lines
Over time, property lines sometimes become less clear. Owners might “move” them either unintentionally or by agreement. For example, one person may continually mow a strip of yard that actually belongs to the next-door neighbor. This could continue for years, even after one or both properties change hands. The perceived property lines may be different than the actual property lines.
This might not be a problem as long as neither neighbor cares. Problems arise, however, when one person encroaches on the property line, intruding on the neighbor’s privacy and legal rights to their own property.
Paying attention to property lines is important when it comes to where to build a fence, pour a driveway, or who can cut down trees near a lot line. Misunderstanding the boundaries can end up in disputes between neighbors that must be settled in court.
Even when it does not include encroachment onto a neighbor’s property, misjudging property lines can end up with homeowners in trouble with their local municipality. Many communities have strict guidelines about how close things like pools, outbuildings, or home additions can come to a lot line. Even being wrong by a foot or two can ruin a homeowner’s plans for their property.
Know Your Property Lines When Selling
Often not knowing how to find property lines is not an issue until a homeowner decides to put their house on the market. Sellers must represent the property correctly to potential buyers so they know how much of the surrounding land is included.
Buyers need to know, for example, that because of where the lines are drawn, they can not fit a pool in the yard. Or that the overgrown patch at the back of their property is not theirs, and therefore can’t be removed. Or that the yard extends back into a wooded area with a creek. Property lines can affect how a buyer views the property for better or for worse—and whether or not they want to make an offer.
Sellers should be ready to show their lot line’s location, and buyers should ask for proof. They should not take a homeowner’s word for it, particularly if the house is for sale by owner. The seller of an FSBO is not necessarily trying to hide something. But they may be mistaken about the location of the borders, and without a real estate agent’s guidance, they may not know how to find property lines for their yard.
Finding Property Lines for Your House
It is a good idea to have certain information at your fingertips when getting ready to sell a house. For example, buyers will be interested to see records of when the homeowner replaced the roof or put in the HVAC system. Having a plat map or survey of the property lines is a good idea too. Here are some surefire ways to find the property’s boundaries.
Land surveyors are trained and licensed to find and mark property lines. As discussed above, they are the ones responsible for physically measuring the lots initially and placing survey pins at the corners. A professional survey is the official record of the location of property lines.
In most cases, a mortgage company or title company will require a survey of a property before approving its purchase. The homeowner can contact these companies for a copy of the survey which will include the property lines.
Surveys are also public records, so homeowners can go to the county or local municipality (or check their websites) to obtain a copy.
Old properties may have what is known as a metes and bounds survey. Using landmarks as a “place of beginning” (POB) along with compass readings and distances, a homeowner can theoretically map out their property lines. The landmarks can be roads, creeks, or even trees. However, this creates a problem if the landmark no longer exists.
If a survey is outdated or vague, a homeowner can hire a surveyor to do a new survey. This will clarify the boundaries and should be registered with the county assessor or recorder. This might also be necessary if an argument over the property lines comes up between neighbors. A title company can deny title insurance to a buyer if there is an ongoing dispute over the property’s borders.The Property Deed
The deed for the house is another way of finding the property lines for your house. It will include the tax description of the property which details the property lines. If the homeowner does not have a copy of the deed in their records, they can get one from the county recorder’s office for a small fee. Many counties also make copies available online.Plat Map
The county clerk’s office and local zoning department hold plat maps, which are maps of subdivision developments. It shows the exact dimensions of all of the lots in a neighborhood. Often a plat map is included with all of the other documents presented to a buyer at a real estate closing.Survey Pins
Surveyors drive iron spikes (often pieces of rebar) into the ground to mark property corners. Even these can sink in or be covered as the years go by, but surveyors can find them. A homeowner can do the same if they have a general idea of the property’s dimensions (from a plat map or survey) and a metal detector. These pins might, however, be accidentally moved by construction or utility workers, tree removers, fence builders, or anyone else who digs on the property.Online Sources
Many municipalities and counties use a Geographical Information System (GIS) to store property line information and make it accessible to the public online. A good place to start is the county assessor’s website. There, homeowners can typically enter their address to find a detailed map of their property and its borders.
There are also paid online apps that use GPS and land parcel records to map out residential property lines. Two common ones are LandGlide and Regrid.State Land Survey Programs
Missouri and Illinois both have programs that provide some additional information that can help in the search for property lines.
The Missouri Land Survey Index allows people to search for plat maps by county, township, or subdivision name. The Illinois State Geological Survey gives township and parcel number information based on street addresses. This information can then be used on the county level to find plat maps.
Still Not Sure How to Find Property Lines? Ask Your Realtor
Experienced real estate agents like ours handle the details of homes every single day and can help guide sellers on how to find property lines. They know what to look for when combing through a homeowner’s file of paperwork from when they bought the house, or searching the county’s website. They also have surveyors they can call along with a long list of other contacts that can help prepare a house for the market.
If you are having trouble finding your lot lines, your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Properties agent can help.
Cover image by zstockphotos by Canva.com
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