How Do I Know Where My Property Lines Are?

How to Find Property Lines for Free

Knowing the legal boundaries of private property is useful for many reasons. Whether you’re a hunter seeking permission to hunt private property or a landowner who wants to know the lines on your property, there are several free ways to find property lines. 

Anyone can visit their local county record or assessor’s office for a single public map of your street and look over the plats, which are maps drawn to scale that show land divisions. These are typically available for homes built less than 100 years ago. A plat will provide the exact dimensions of your lot and show boundaries in relation to your neighbors. 

You can also track down your deed. Some deeds have a “metes and bounds” survey attached to it, which describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next. But these surveys can be hard to decipher. 

Look for buried pins on the corners of your property. These are steel bars (often capped with plastic) placed by professional surveyors to mark common points. Not all bars are visible; some will require using a metal detector to locate. 

One trick for finding property lines is to look for visual clues. Street lights are typically placed on property lines, and sidewalk cuts and changes are typically right on the boundary line. 

Google Earth is no longer an option for finding property lines. U.S. Parcels Data was discontinued by Google on January 29, 2016.

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. 

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How Property Lines Are Determined

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).

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 in shape. This system has since become the nationwide standard of how we calculate property lines today.

Property Lines And Home Appraisals

So, what does this mean for home 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 often 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.

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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How do I find my property line?

The best way to find the property line is to consult the plat for your property. Depending on the urgency, you may want to measure it yourself or call in a surveyor. In either case, it’s a great idea to visit your community’s zoning department. They can give you a copy of your plat (for a fee) and bring you up to speed on your local zoning ordinances.

You may also want to visit the register of deeds office at your county courthouse. There, you’ll be able to obtain a copy of your deed. They may also have insights for you as to the history of the property. Property owners often sell off portions of their lots or bought pieces of them — the deed will list any changes like this.

Your deed should include a “metes and bounds” survey. This part of your deed describes a starting point from which you can measure all the corners of your property. However, it has technical language that can be difficult to understand.

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.

Why Are Property Lines Important?

Property lines are important because they eliminate gray areas when it comes to property ownership. Because of property lines, you know exactly what land you’re getting when you begin the process of buying a house. Your mortgage lender and/or title insurance company will need to verify the property lines to help you qualify for a mortgage.

Knowing your property lines is also helpful when starting a home improvement or major landscaping project. You’ll want to have an understanding of where your yard ends and a neighbor’s begins. That way, you won’t end up accidentally building a new addition on your home or putting up a fence around your yard that encroaches on your neighbor’s property.

Finally, being aware of your property lines shows that you’re respectful of the neighboring premises. Knowing the boundaries of your property can help you avoid disagreements with your surrounding neighbors, especially ones that could lead to legal disputes.

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!

[ Rental property investor, rehabber or wholesaler? Get to know which investing strategy is the best fit for YOU by attending our FREE online real estate class. ]

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 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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