How to Find Your Property Lines

What are property lines?

Property lines are necessary during construction by the developer, city, county, or state to show where ownership of one plot of land starts and ends. A surveyor establishes the formal boundaries and marks them. When the property is legally split, the new property lines are established in a survey. The property line at the front of your house is known as your frontage, the measured distance across the front of the plot you own. The property lines on the side of your plot are known as sidelines. Local zoning laws often dictate these distances.

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Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey

If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to find property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

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But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

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How Are Property Lines Calculated?

Property lines are almost always calculated using a shared protocol called the RSS or Rectangular Survey System. Professional land surveyors use the RSS to create roughly equal rectangular parcels of land, which can eventually be added and measured to create a total property outline. Through the RSS, all land parcels are divided into sections measuring about 1 mile across. However, the land parcel divisions are usually not perfect because of environmental factors like lakes, tree lines, rivers, and roads. Parcel lines are also separated into meridians and baselines, which run north to south or east to west.

How to Find Property Lines

Hiring a professional surveyor is one way to find your property lines. But if you are wondering how to find property lines on your own, there are several ways you can do it.

Pay for a Property Survey

The easiest way to find your property lines is to have a property survey (also known as a land survey) done by a professional surveyor. This will actually tell you more than just your property lines. It will also give you information on any restrictions, easements, or hazards. And the surveyor will also give you information on any underground cables/systems such as gas, telephone, water, and drainage. 

However, keep in mind that a professional survey won’t be cheap. The average professional property survey costs between $400 and $700, depending on the size of the property, its location, the terrain, etc. 

Still, if you don’t have time to find property lines on your own or don’t feel comfortable doing it, a professional survey might be your best option. 

Access Official Records

You can also find your property lines through the local government. Every county keeps public records, and that includes plat maps: maps that show exact land divisions for a town or subdivision. Plat maps show aerial views of your property and will give its exact measurements. For a small fee, you can purchase a copy of your property records. You might even be able to access the records online. 

Locate Survey Pins

When your lot was originally surveyed, survey pins were dropped along the outer edges. These are thin iron bars, two to three feet in length. If you have a metal detector or can borrow one, you would probably be able to locate them and walk the edges of your property.

However, before you try to dig up old survey pins, you need to call the utility company. Let them know your plans and ask them to mark any lines buried on your property. If you accidentally damage one of the lines, you may have to pay for repairs. Not to mention the fact that you could leave your home, or even several homes, without power while waiting for repairs.

Keep in mind survey pins are not 100% accurate, either. Pins could have been moved by previous homeowners during landscaping or other home improvement projects.

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Use Visual Clues

There might be visual clues along the edges of your property. If it ends in a ditch, road, or body of water, for example, that is likely the end of your property. Streetlights are often placed at property lines, so they might also be used as an indicator.

Also, when your home was first built, it is likely that the builder poured the concrete for the sidewalk just to the edges of your property. You might be able to tell where your piece of the sidewalk ends just by looking at it. 

Although visual clues are helpful, they are not always available. And they are not always accurate. When you are trying to decide how to find property lines, other methods are more accurate.

Bring in a Professional Surveyor

Before you drive yourself too crazy with the metes and bounds survey, know that the only legally binding method to determine exact property lines—essential, for example, if you intend to build an addition to your house—is to have a professional survey. Local building codes will determine how close to your property line you can legally build. A professional survey could cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the size of your property and the complexity of the survey. Costly, perhaps, but adding to your dream house while keeping in your neighbors’ good graces is priceless.

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RELATED: How Much Does a Land Survey Cost?

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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.

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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 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.

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.

The Bottom Line

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 strategies mentioned above, or go online to check. Remember that before you start an outdoor project such as building a fence on the property line, make sure to consult with your neighbor and a real estate agent about your property’s rules and regulations.

Are you trying to put in a new fence but aren’t sure how to pay for it? Why not apply for a cash out refinance today?

2. 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.

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.

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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.

4. 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.

Important Things to Remember about Your Property Line:

It is always important to know your rights as a homeowner, especially when it comes to property lines. These disputes are the cause of many neighborhood arguments and can be easily stopped with some knowledge. Below are a few reminders:

  • Leaves, pods, acorns, etc. falling onto your property are considered a natural occurrence and are the property owner’s responsibility to clear away.
  • If branches fall and cause damage on your property for any reason other than a storm, your neighbor is responsible for the cleanup and damage.
  • If you and your neighbor compare deeds and the property lines do not match up, you will need to agree to pay for a survey. You have to agree to split the survey, one person cannot bully the other into paying for the survey.

Always check with your local laws before getting into a dispute. Property laws change drastically from state to state.

Get up to speed on your new home with these 12 tips.

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