How to Find Your Property Lines

How to Find Your Property Lines

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Check Sidewalks and Street Lights

Examine the lines that are cut in the sidewalk in front of your house. Often, the contractor who poured the sidewalk started and stopped on the property lines, so those cut lines may coincide with the edges of your property. As well, the appearance of the concrete on your side of the property may be slightly different from that on your neighbor’s side. Streetlights, too, are often placed on property lines. While these visual clues are good indications of property lines, if you intend to build or install something on your land, you’ll need additional verification.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

How to Find Property Lines in 6 Ways

If you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry – you don’t necessarily need to spend a small fortune to find property lines for a home you already own. In fact, there are six distinct ways in which you can find property lines either for free or without spending much cash. These ways include:

  1. Use a property line map

  2. Review the property deed

  3. Do a property line survey

  4. Find an existing property line survey

  5. Look for property line markers

  6. Do a DIY property line measurement

Let’s break down each of these techniques one by one.

1. Use a Property Line Map

A “plat” is simply a property line map. This drawing details the boundary lines of your property and usually includes a variety of environmental features that may affect those lines. These include structures, elevations, or distinctive bodies of water. In some cases, the plat will include maps of neighboring properties if the property lines between you are shared. Fortunately, plats are almost always included with your property’s basic paperwork. If you don’t have a copy of this already, you can get a copy of the plat at the local assessor’s office. Or you can sometimes access the plat for your property online.

2. Review the Property Deed

Next, you can review the deed to your property. The deed is the basic legal document for your property, including a description of the land’s legal boundaries, what’s included in the property, and so on. Even though a description of the land’s boundaries is a default inclusion, some property deeds do not include this information. If this is the case, the deed should refer you to an older deed for the same property that does include the property lines. But be aware: just because an older property deed includes the property lines doesn’t mean they are necessarily relevant or accurate. For example, out-of-date property deeds could reference landmarks or features that no longer exist or were changed. If you’ve retrieved your property lines from an out-of-date deed, do a tour of your property and make sure that the property lines seem to be accurate and relevant before using them for any legal proceedings or future developments.

3. Do a Property Line Survey

Alternatively, you could do a thorough property line survey. Property line surveys take precise measurements of a piece of land’s legal boundaries. In some cases, a property line survey and its information may be included with your property deed or plat. But if you don’t have a property line survey record on hand, you can hire a professional surveyor to do one for you now. Professional and qualified land surveyors can measure where your property legally ends with exacting specificity. Land surveyors can also perform additional tasks, such as researching the property’s history regarding ecological restrictions or subdivisions. But be aware that you should only hire a worthwhile and qualified land surveyor to do the job, as only these individuals have the expertise needed to provide accurate information. If you’re a new homeowner, be aware that mortgage lenders usually need new surveys to be completed before you can fully purchase a piece of property.

4. Find an Existing Property Line Survey

If you’re fortunate, a property line survey will already have been completed and be stored either in local or county records offices or with your mortgage or title companies. That’s because most mortgage lenders require any prospective homeowners to have or complete a current survey of the land. You’ll also need a current survey of land you purchase if you want title insurance. So if you don’t have the survey but bought a home recently, you can contact your mortgage or title company and request a copy. Sometimes the copies are out of date and must be renewed, but not always. Similarly, you can contact your county or municipality’s tax assessor’s office and ask about existing property line records. These organizations may have copies of property line surveys in their building or land records departments. You don’t even always have to contact them by phone; many of these organizations have search functions you can find online at their websites. Even better, the majority of municipalities will offer property line records for free (although some may require a small fee, or otherwise force you to retrieve the records in person rather than download them over the Internet). Your mileage may vary with this technique because it’s all dependent on the unique rules of your county or municipality.

5. Look for Property Line Markers

If you’re purchasing a relatively new property, you might get lucky and find property line markers already scattered throughout the parcel. These can take the form of flags, stakes, or even light fences. These are holdovers from when the land was initially divided for sale. If that’s the case, you’re in luck! The property line markers were likely placed by a professional land surveyor or surveying company, so they should be accurate and up-to-date. Furthermore, you probably don’t have many or any neighbors to compete with if you have property line markers. In that case, you can feel free to use those markers as indicators of where your property begins and ends. Note that while this method is convenient, you may still need to acquire more detailed property line information or legal documentation if you want to make a major expansion to your land without encroaching on your neighbor’s.

6. Do a DIY Property Line Measurement

If you’re a homeowner more used to getting your hands dirty and doing things yourself, you can also take your property line measurements yourself. This can also be handy even if you have official records on hand, as you can then visually confirm the property lines and plan out any developments or projects you want to complete. What do you need? Just a tape measure. To begin, find a point that is clearly detailed in your deed’s description and start there. Then measure the distance to the property’s edge and put a stake at that point. This serves as a beginning marker. Repeat this process with several other notable points in your deed’s property description. With a little luck, you’ll identify all the edges and corners of your property. Next, take your tape measure and measure the distance between individual stakes. Compare the measurements you take and ensure that they match the plat or deed that you have on hand. Again, this may not hold up in court if there is ever any future legal trouble, but it can be useful for planning out property developments like planting hedges or removing trees.

When should I hire a professional surveyor?

Just because you know how to find property lines o

Just because you know how to find property lines on your own doesn’t mean that you should. It depends how you are using your property lines. If you are planting a new tree, for example, and just want to make sure you are within your lot — but don’t plan on going all the way to the edge — you might be able to use property lines you found on your own. 

But a professional property survey is the only legally binding document for use in disputes or in real estate transactions. If you are selling your home and want to be able to tell buyers exactly what your property includes, you need a property survey. Likewise, as a buyer, your mortgage company will likely require a professional property survey. 

If you are not sure where to find a professional surveyor, talk to your real estate agent. Most agents have a network of professionals that they trust and who they are comfortable recommending. 

If you aren’t working with a Realtor yet, UpNest can help! We will connect you to the top local Realtors in your market. You’ll receive three to five proposals, and can find an experienced local agent to help you buy or sell your home. From property lines to final negotiations, an UpNest Realtor will work with you every step of the way!

How do I find my property boundaries?

Find your property line by visiting your local county recorder or assessor’s office. You can access public maps of your street and locate your boundaries. Many counties also let you access property lines online. If your property is on platted land, you may be able to access the plat maps online.

Can Google maps show property lines? Google Maps will display property lines if you type your address into the ‘Search Google Maps’ search bar and zoom into the property closely enough. However, property lines are not available on all locations in Google Maps, unfortunately.

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