“How Do I Find My Property Lines?”

“How Do I Find My Property Lines?”

What Are Property Lines?

Property lines, or boundary lines, define the points where properties begin and end. These boundaries are used when installing features such as fences, pools and home additions.

Having a good understanding of your home’s property lines is a very important part of being a homeowner. Knowing where your property begins and ends can prevent potential unpleasantries or legal disputes with your neighbors. It can also ensure that you’re respecting your neighbor’s privacy and space. It’s important to note that an unknown property line encroachment could result in a title company refusing insurance.

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How Property Lines Are Calculated

We know that fences don’t line every landowner’s plot, so how do we define where one yard ends and the neighbor’s begins? It’s a little less than precise, but to help make things more standardized, nearly the entire country has adopted a protocol called the Rectangular Survey System (RSS).

If you’re thinking RSS as in email, think again. Land surveyors use RSS to develop a system of rectangular parcels of land that can be added and measured to create an outline of the property. RSS works by dividing all land parcels into roughly 1-mile sections. The word “roughly” is used because these sections are hardly ever perfect. Roads, creeks, rivers, lakes and tree lines often get in the way of the perfect mile. The lines are then separated into two types: meridians and baselines. Meridians run north and south, baselines run east and west.

The RSS system was first used in eastern Ohio in an area called the Seven Ranges. The epicenter of the system is on the Ohio – Pennsylvania border near Pittsburgh. County lines regularly follow this survey, and the creation of it in the Midwest explains why many counties are rectangular shaped. This system has since become the nationwide standard of how we calculate property lines today.

So, what does this mean for appraisers? While conducting an appraisal of a given property, the appraiser will visit the county assessor’s office in the local municipality to acquire property records. They will look at the parcel ID and legal description to verify the basic description of the property location.

If the property is in a subdivision, then it will most likely be measured by RSS, and property lines can oftentimes be identified on the associated plat map. If the appraiser cannot verify the property boundaries, they will have to request a copy of a survey that would have to be performed by a licensed surveyor.

Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey

If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to find property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

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But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

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Why is it Important to Find Property Lines?

Property lines are important since they clear up any confusion or arguments regarding where someone’s property begins and where another person’s property ends. Imagine, for example, that you want to plant a new row of hedges in your backyard to increase privacy and to change the aesthetic of your backyard space. However, you don’t have any fences between your property and your neighbor’s. How can you know where you should plant your hedges without technically invading your neighbor’s space? The answer, of course, is property lines. By finding the property lines, you can plant the hedges in a specific spot or row and avoid any legal trouble later down the road.

There are plenty of other examples besides this, as well. For example, if you know the property lines for a given piece of property, you’ll know exactly what land you purchase when you buy a house. Knowing property lines lets you share the information with your mortgage lender or title insurance company. These can help you get faster and even more attractive mortgage or insurance terms. As you can see, it’s important to find property lines for more reasons than just one. Luckily, there are multiple ways in which you can do so!

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Visit the county recorder’s office or the assessor’s office. Ask what maps are available for public viewing that include your neighborhood and street. Request a copy of any maps that show clear dimensions of your property lines. Use the maps for reference when measuring your property’s total boundary line on each side.

Why is it important to know the location of your property lines? 

Property lines are in place to keep one property owner from encroaching on another owner’s land or compromising their privacy by building too close to their house. A typical encroachment might be tree limbs that grow past your property and overhang into a neighbor’s yard or a driveway poured to extend onto a neighbor’s property. When you know exactly where your property lines fall, you’ll avoid accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s land.

If you plan to build a permanent structure, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible, and ordering your own land survey is the best option. In most states, you are required to call a diggers hotline 811 to request buried utility information before you build a fence, plant a tree, or extend your driveway. This call ensures you know the location of any buried wires or irrigation systems to avoid causing damage. Within a few days’ notice, someone from your local utility company should be able to mark county wires or pipes with spray paint or flags.

Since property line information can be valuable to someone you may sell your house to, you will want to keep all records. Keep a copy of a new survey you’ve completed, a plat map, or any information from the city or county offices in digital or hard copy format. If you do a new survey, you may also need to register it with your county assessor or recorder. During the sale of a property, the title company will search for encroachment of one property into another. They may refuse title insurance to the seller if they find a property line dispute.

When you know how to find your property lines, you’ll gain peace of mind for any project that could come close to the edge of the property. Showing respect for your neighbor and their property rights can help you avoid a lawsuit. 

Final Thoughts

Before building a new structure or installing a driveway, it’s vital to have a professional come out and mark the property lines. Property pins can be moved over the years, and in some cases, the boundary may extend past a property boundary marker if a previous owner bought or sold land to a neighbor. In a best case scenario, you may have more land than you thought you did. In a worst case scenario, you may have poured the driveway on the neighbors’ land, and they can make you tear it out.

How To Find Your Property Stake:

It is much more common for the stakes to be several inches underground. Not so deep that they match up with the frost line, but deep enough that some digging is necessary. In that case, your best bet is to buy or rent a metal detector (inexpensive ones cost less than $50). When you’ve found your target, dig down to make sure that it’s really a stake and not just a lost quarter.

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After you have found the iron property stake, replace the dirt and hammer in a small piece of wood as a visible marker.

Note: If locating your property lines precisely—in a legal dispute, for example—we strongly recommend that you hire a professional surveyor.

How to Legally Determine Property Lines

Hire a Licensed Land Surveyor

To get an accurate determination of property lines that will stand up to legal scrutiny, you’ll need to hire a professional surveyor. (Note that most states require licensure of land surveyors; check your state’s requirements.)

While a professional survey may cost a a few to several hundred dollars—or more, depending on property location, size, shape, and terrain—it’s money well spent since property disputes cost a lot more in time, potential hefty legal fees, and neighborly goodwill.

How to Find Property Lines

Hiring a professional surveyor is one way to find your property lines. But if you are wondering how to find property lines on your own, there are several ways you can do it.

Pay for a Property Survey

The easiest way to find your property lines is to have a property survey (also known as a land survey) done by a professional surveyor. This will actually tell you more than just your property lines. It will also give you information on any restrictions, easements, or hazards. And the surveyor will also give you information on any underground cables/systems such as gas, telephone, water, and drainage. 

However, keep in mind that a professional survey won’t be cheap. The average professional property survey costs between $400 and $700, depending on the size of the property, its location, the terrain, etc. 

Still, if you don’t have time to find property lines on your own or don’t feel comfortable doing it, a professional survey might be your best option. 

Access Official Records

You can also find your property lines through the local government. Every county keeps public records, and that includes plat maps: maps that show exact land divisions for a town or subdivision. Plat maps show aerial views of your property and will give its exact measurements. For a small fee, you can purchase a copy of your property records. You might even be able to access the records online. 

Locate Survey Pins

When your lot was originally surveyed, survey pins were dropped along the outer edges. These are thin iron bars, two to three feet in length. If you have a metal detector or can borrow one, you would probably be able to locate them and walk the edges of your property.

However, before you try to dig up old survey pins, you need to call the utility company. Let them know your plans and ask them to mark any lines buried on your property. If you accidentally damage one of the lines, you may have to pay for repairs. Not to mention the fact that you could leave your home, or even several homes, without power while waiting for repairs.

Keep in mind survey pins are not 100% accurate, either. Pins could have been moved by previous homeowners during landscaping or other home improvement projects.

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Use Visual Clues

There might be visual clues along the edges of your property. If it ends in a ditch, road, or body of water, for example, that is likely the end of your property. Streetlights are often placed at property lines, so they might also be used as an indicator.

Also, when your home was first built, it is likely that the builder poured the concrete for the sidewalk just to the edges of your property. You might be able to tell where your piece of the sidewalk ends just by looking at it. 

Although visual clues are helpful, they are not always available. And they are not always accurate. When you are trying to decide how to find property lines, other methods are more accurate.

What exactly is a property line?

Property lines are the legal boundaries to your property. They will tell you exactly where your property begins and ends, officially, so there is no question.

Sometimes property lines are very obvious. For example, your backyard might end in a lake, so there is no question as to where it ends. But other times, for instance, if your yard runs into your neighbor’s yard without any change in landscaping or elevation, they might be impossible to determine without an official property survey.

Finding Legal Property Lines

For purposes of building fences, roads, listing a property with precise acreage, or litigation purposes, it may be necessary to determine legal property lines. In most cases, this will require using a licensed land surveyor. 

The maps and land descriptions created by a land surveyor are usually considered legally binding. A surveyor will produce plats of surveys and describe the property and its boundaries. Remember, most states require the licensure of land surveyors, so it’s important to check your state’s requirements.

Surveying land uses a system based on the Rectangular Survey System (RSS). Another name for the system is the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). The entire country uses this system, which was developed and adopted in 1785. The concept for the system was to divide all land parcels into roughly one-mile sections so a network of meridians and baselines was established. Meridians run north and south, and baselines run east and west. Of course, roads, creeks, rivers, lakes, and tree lines often got in the way, preventing the creation of a perfect rectangular mile. 

Some land surveyors rely on GPS data to gather information and prepare their surveys. Hiring a surveyor will cost anywhere from several hundred to over $1,000 depending on the size of your property. 

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