Content of the material
- What Is A Property Line?
- Boundary Line Agreements
- Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info
- Find Property Lines Online
- Can My Neighbor Build A Fence On The Property Line?
- How to Find Property Lines for Free
- Homeowner’s Deed
- A Tape Measure
- Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company
- Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality
- Buried Pins
- Use an App
- Related Resources
- Comparative Market Analysis: A Guide
- 8 Mortgage Myths And Truths
- How To Make An Offer On A House In 5 Steps
- Why you might want to locate property lines before you purchase a house
What Is A Property Line?
Property lines are the legal boundaries of your property. They clearly define who owns what pieces of land by dividing it. These boundaries can be obvious – like roads, ditches or fences – or they can be completely invisible. Knowing property lines is an important part of buying a home and being a homeowner.
Boundary Line Agreements
Boundary line agreements are written legal contracts between neighbors made to settle disputes over property boundaries. They vary slightly by state, but the point is to have a way where property owners can agree on property line usage outside of going to court.
Boundary line agreements are not the same as boundary line adjustments. Boundary line adjustments are made when property owners want to exchange land, redefining the property line between them, typically done without involving money. Boundary line agreements are specifically used when there is a dispute over land and its use.
One of the most common reasons for a boundary line agreement is when a neighbor has encroached on your property by building a structure on it. Often, this issue is only made known because you did a land survey for another project and discovered your neighbor built on your land.
In order to retain the title to that piece of property, you can create a boundary line agreement with your neighbor. In this agreement, your neighbor acknowledges their mistake in encroaching on your property and you allow the structure to remain standing. This allows you to retain legal ownership, your neighbor to use what they built and for you both to stay out of court. You retain the right to the property and if the structure is torn down or destroyed, the neighbor must rebuild it on their property.
If you wish to cede the property to your neighbor, you can file a boundary line adjustment, though you’ll need to pay review fees, and the process takes longer than an agreement. Regardless of your decision, you need to do something if you ever intend to sell or transfer the property. A neighbor’s structure on your property may make things more complicated the longer it goes unaddressed.
Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info
In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.
Find Property Lines Online
Every day, more technology is available online, and property maps are no exception. Many counties are now digitizing their property records and uploading them to interactive sites that allow residents to access them from their own computers. These sites make use of a geographical information system (GIS) in order to pull up a lot or parcel of land using an address or an owner’s name. Look on your county’s website and then look around for terms like “Property Search” or “Parcel Search” to access the GIS map.
Other online GIS sites may also be able to help, such as AcreValue, a favorite tool of real estate agents for finding property lines. The lines will give you a general idea of where your property boundaries lie, but they cannot pinpoint the exact property markers for you. For that, you’ll need to use one of the other methods.
Look at your property survey. The survey is a document with a rendering of the property lines and measurements, and should have been given to you when you bought your home. The distance from your house to the property line and the street should be shown on the survey. Use the measurements and details about surrounding landmarks to visually determine the property lines and avoid land disputes with neighbors.
Can My Neighbor Build A Fence On The Property Line?
If your neighbor is thinking about building a fence on the property line between your two homes, it’s important that they are aware of all necessary laws and regulations. Where a neighbor can build a fence on the property is dependent on jurisdiction laws, as well as any deed restrictions on either of your homes. As a general rule, laws typically state that a fence must be built at least 2 – 8 inches from a neighbor’s property line. A fence built directly on a property line may result in a joint responsibility of the fence between the neighbors, including maintenance and costs. Just as a precaution, if you or a neighbor are thinking of building a fence on or near one of your home’s property lines, make sure to consult your real estate agent on any rules and regulations.
How to Find Property Lines for Free
A homeowner’s deed should include a legal description of the plot of land, including its measurements, shape, block and lot number, and other identifiers such as landmarks and geographical features. If the language is tricky, reach out to your real estate lawyer or agent for help in deciphering it.
A Tape Measure
If you want to visually confirm your property lines, you can use a tape measure to determine the boundaries. From a known point detailed in the deed’s description, measure to the property’s edge and place a stake at that point as a marker.
After all the edges have been determined, measure the distance between the stakes. Compare the results to make sure they match the corresponding deed or plat.
Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company
Most mortgage lenders require prospective homeowners to have a current survey, and your title insurance also depends on it. If you bought your home recently but don’t have the survey, contact either company to see if they have a copy on file.
Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality
A property’s history and legalrecords are generally kept in the municipality or county’s tax assessor’s office or in its land records or building department. You can usually begin your search by going online to access the relevant property records. Most municipalities offer this information for free, but some offices may require a small fee or ask that you access the records in person.
At the corners of your property, you may be able to find steel bars that have been buried, sometimes still visible, with a marked cap on the top end. These were likely placed on your land when a survey was completed. If you can’t readily see the pins (they may have been buried over time), use a metal detector to help you locate them.
While this isn’t a legally binding way to determine your property lines, it will give you a good idea of the boundaries. Warning: Before you start digging, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline, to request the location of buried utilities you don’t want to inadvertently dig into an underground utility line.
Use an App
Download an app like LandGlide that uses GPS to determine a parcel’s property lines. LandGlide is free for the first seven days.
Check your deed. The deed contains a description of your property’s measurements and boundaries in words. Measure from the landmarks in the description to the property lines. Mark each corner with a stake or other marker. Measure from each stake to the next all the way around your property to ensure the measured lines match the deed. Physically measuring the boundaries will allow you to visually determine where the lines are and avoid encroaching on your neighbor’s land.
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Why you might want to locate property lines before you purchase a house
As a homebuyer, exercise caution regarding property lines as you move through the purchase process. The previous owners may have failed to account for property lines before they started various home improvements and could have encroached on a neighbor’s property. Ask your lender for a copy of the completed survey – you may learn that the property is smaller than you expected. Or, an encroachment issue could prompt you to renegotiate the deal or walk away altogether.
If you love the home, a suitable compromise could involve a boundary line agreement after the purchase. A boundary line agreement is a legal contract to settle disputes between neighbors over property boundaries and provides an agreement on property line usage without going to court.
There are fast, easy, precise, and cost-effective ways to find property lines, whether it’s for a property you own or one you plan to purchase. Make sure to gather accurate information when buying a home or starting any construction or landscaping project.