How to Find A Property Lines Online and Offline

How to Find A Property Lines Online and Offline

What are Property Lines, and Why do They Matter?

Property lines are the legal boundaries of a given property, but unfortunately, they’re not always easy to find. Not only is it essential to know where property lines are to keep from planting or building something on a neighbor’s property, but it’s also important to know that most lots come with setbacks that prohibit building within a few feet of a property line. Guessing where the legal boundary is can result in having to tear down a shed or garage that’s too close to the property line.

Homeowners are responsible for maintaining the lawn and yard on their property and most are not willing to let a neighbor use valuable lawn if it doesn’t belong to them.

RELATED: Whose Responsibility Is it: Homeowner, Town, or Utility Company?

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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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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.

Conclusion

As a homeowner, it’s crucial that you’re aware of property lines so that you can respect your neighbor’s property and avoid any legal disputes. If you’re struggling to find your home’s property lines, utilize one of the aforementioned strategies, or go online to check. Remember that before you or your neighbor build a fence on the property line, make sure to consult with each other and a real estate agent about your property’s rules and regulations. For more information about buying real estate, check out our other resources for further reading on properties and mortgages.

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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Why You Might Need to Know Your Property Lines

You will need to know your property lines if you are planning to build an addition to your home, add a deck to the back, or if you want to do any major landscaping changes. Even if you want to build a fence, you will need to know your property lines. 

Knowing property lines is also important if you are buying or selling real estate. If you are the seller, you will need to let potential buyers know exactly what they are paying for. And if you are buying a property, you want to be sure of the boundaries of the property you make an offer on it. Your mortgage and title companies will likely require your property lines, too, as they prepare your paperwork. 

And lastly, knowing your property lines can help you avoid disputes with your neighbors. Having clearly defined boundaries makes it easier to know who is responsible for tree removal, for example. It will also help you avoid any issues of encroachment: when one neighbor builds something that sits on the other’s property. 

There are many reasons you might want (or need) to know property lines. Once you decide you want to know your property lines, the next step is to figure out how to find property lines.

Locate Hidden Property Pins

Survey pins are thin iron bars, 2 or 3 feet long and sometimes capped with plastic, which the original survey crew inserted on the property lines. If you have access to a metal detector, move the device over the ground along the sidewalk to the curb to locate the survey pin. Pins may be buried just under the surface, or up to a foot below. A few days before you dig, however, you must call 811, the free, federally designated number that will route you to your local utility company. Ask the utility company to come out and mark any buried lines so you don’t unintentionally hit one. There’s no charge for this service, but if you damage a buried utility line, you could end up having to pay to repair it.

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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.

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.

What Are Survey Stakes?

Survey stakes are not regulated by a federal body and thus can look very different depending on the type of survey done and even the company that did the survey. Some stakes are wooden, some are embedded into the ground, and others have colored flags. If you are unsure, contact the company that did the original survey of your property to see if someone knows what kind of markers you should be looking for.

If you are looking for the original survey stakes, they typically stick out of the ground and are 6 inches long, 1/2 inch thick and likely were originally painted yellow. Once you find a survey stake, make sure that you leave a marker of some kind so you can find it again. In addition, this will ensure that you know later that you already found that particular marker.

When you purchased your property, land surveyors should have defined your property boundaries. Contact that company if possible and ask for an example of the pins used. Some of these companies even will have a copy of the survey for your records. If the stakes are metal, you can use a metal detector to find them and the original survey as a guide.

What Are Boundary Line Agreements?

Without getting too technical, boundary line agreements are special legal contracts written between neighbors. They are used to settle any disputes over existing property lines are boundaries. While the exact contract requirements and inclusions will vary depending on your state, they are always used to ensure two or more property owners agree on how property lines are used and divided. Note that boundary line agreements aren’t the exact same thing as boundary line adjustments. Boundary line adjustments, instead, are created when property owners need to exchange land. This involves redefining or redrawing property lines between them. In some cases, but not all, this may involve money. For example, if you and your neighbor want to trade bits of property in your backyards for different elements, you can draw up a boundary line adjustment to make this legal.

So, what do you use boundary line agreements for? One common example occurs when one neighbor accidentally encroaches on another person’s property by planting hedges or building a structure. This may occur if the original property owner does a land survey and discovers the error. In that case, the property owner needs to create a boundary line agreement with their neighbor if they want to retain the title to that property piece. The resulting boundary line agreement will include an acknowledgment by your neighbor that they accidentally encroached on the property, as well as an acknowledgment on your end that you will let the structure remain standing. In this way, the structure builder can keep control of the building while you retain control of the actual land it is built on.

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.

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.

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