How to Find Property Lines for Your Land

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. Some property lines have physical markers, whereas others are invisible.

It’s important to know that a property line in the front of the house determines the measured distance of the land, known as the frontage. In contrast, the property boundaries on the side of your house are known as sidelines. Knowing this information is helpful when property owners are making potential improvements to their home, such as adding a fence or making major landscaping decisions.

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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.

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Why do I need to know where my property lines are?

As we said before, knowing where your property line is can have an enormous impact on home sales, renovations, and repairs. For example, if you want to install a fence, your local zoning ordinances might require an 8-inch distance of your fence from the property line. Other ordinances may dictate responsibility for sidewalks and tree removal. Finally, where a property line falls may be critical for liability issues, such as slips and falls. If you plan on building or renovating your home, knowing where the property line is can be critical.

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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Have More Questions About Property Boundaries? Ask a Lawyer

Property disputes can get heated quickly. The best way to keep a dispute from getting out of hand is to understand your property rights. Contact a skilled real estate lawyer near you to discuss your situation and learn how they can help resolve your matter decisively.

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, they must be aware of all necessary laws and regulations. Where a neighbor can build a fence on the property depends on jurisdiction laws and 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 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 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.

Can My Neighbor and I Simply Agree Where the Boundary Should Be?

If you and your neighbor have agreed where you both want the property boundaries to be, then you can make a "lot line agreement," also called a "lot line adjustment agreement." These agreements are official and binding by making and signing deeds that describe in detail the agreed upon property line.

Before you proceed, check your local zoning and subdivision ordinances to make sure your new lot will be in compliance. Some communities require lots of a certain size before they allow animals or extra buildings. Even a small loss of property could create an unanticipated problem. You may need to appear before your town’s planning commission or governing board to get your lot line adjustment approved.

If you or your neighbor are still both paying off mortgages on your properties, you will probably need to consult with an attorney before making a lot line agreement. Your mortgage is signed with a description of the property. If you execute a deed without the bank’s approval, you are in breach of your mortgage. You will need a loan modification. You will be responsible for any costs associated with the modification.

After signing the deed, you will need to file it with the county land records office. This office, which is sometimes known by names such as the County Recorder’s Office, or the Land Registry Office, will file the deed and make it available for public viewing upon request. This gives notice to any future purchaser of the land of the new, agreed-upon property boundaries.

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.

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.

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.

What resources are available to help me determine property lines?

There are many resources that can help you find your property lines for free:

Local zoning and surveyors’ offices

These offices often have the actual survey maps for various properties, from which you can measure out your property by hand with a simple measuring tape. Many states also have interactive maps that you can use, such as thisMassachusetts Interactive Property Map. These tools make it easy for you to find your property line and decide if you need to bring in a professional surveyor or not.

Mobile apps

Apps such as Landglide and Boundaryviewer use a combination of GPS and online records to help you find your property lines online.

Web based sites and apps

Google Maps has a feature that displays property lines based on the date that you input. This is part of the Google Earth and Google Maps functionality and is a free service.

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.

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.

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 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.

Hire a surveyor

If you don’t have a survey or plat — or at least not one that’s at all up-to-date or specific — you may choose to hire a professional to do a land survey. The surveyor can measure and map the property and will generally also mark the corners of the property with stakes.

The cost of hiring a professional surveyor depends on your location and project. If you decide to hire a surveyor, ask friends and family members for referrals. You’ll want to meet with several potential surveyors to discuss your needs and choose one who is experienced and with whom you feel comfortable working.

The surveyor needs to be licensed with your state and should carry professional liability insurance, which can cover you if the surveyor makes a mistake in the survey. Ask if the surveyor is willing to walk your property lines with you following the completion of the survey. Also ask about the equipment the surveyor uses; GPS and CAD, for instance, allow for more precise surveys than those possible before these innovations. You must also tell your surveyor why you need a survey and exactly which services you require. This will ensure that the fee estimate you receive is as accurate as possible.

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