How Do I Find My 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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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.

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.

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Property Line Disputes: What They Are And How To Resolve Them Refinancing – 4-minute read Andrew Dehan – May 23, 2022 Disputes over boundaries between properties can sometimes pop up among homeowners. Learn more about types of property line disputes and how to settle them here. Read More

Land Survey: What It Is, Types And Cost Home Buying – 5-minute read May 23, 2022 Need a land survey but aren’t sure which type? Here’s a guide on the types of land surveys you may need and their costs to determine which one is right for you. Read More

Home Buyer’s Guide To Right Of Way Easements Home Buying – 5-minute read Kevin Graham – May 23, 2022 Wondering if the house you’re buying might come with a right of way easement? Learn how to check and what it will mean if there is one. Read More

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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 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.

How to Find Your Property Line in 5 Steps

To find your property line, follow these five steps.

  • Consult your deed for details of your property’s boundaries. 
  • Assess a plat map of the area to verify the deed’s information or find information not covered in older deeds. 
  • Look for natural, temporary, and permanent land markers at the edge of your property. 
  • If you cannot find any markers, hire a surveyor to look over your land. 
  • Update your personal records at the end of the process.

If you follow these steps, you should have an exact placement for your property lines. Finding your property line is actually relatively simple. Though the process will vary depending on your individual property’s size and location, and the state of your records, there are a few common things you can do to find your property line.

Step 1: Check Your Deed

Matt Benoit/Shutterstock

Matt Benoit/Shutterstock

A good place to start when looking for your property line is the deed to your land. As a binding legal document recording your holdings, a deed should list the exact boundaries of the property in some way. If it doesn’t, it will refer to a different document that does have those measurements.

If your deed does refer to a different document, it may be slightly out of date. So, it might describe landmarks that no longer exist. If this is the case, you’ll want to check a more up-to-date document.

Step 2: Look at Your Plat Map

Lisheng2121/Shutterstock

Lisheng2121/Shutterstock

A plat map, also called a property line map, describes the boundaries of different properties in a certain area while also offering topographical information like elevation, the presence of water, and other long-term structures. 

There are five different kinds of plat maps, but the ones you’ll need to find your property lines are subdivision and consolidation plat maps. These show the dividing of a single parcel, or property, into smaller pieces or the uniting of small parcels into larger land groups, respectively. You may also consult amending plats, which show small corrections that have been made.

They’re usually reasonably up-to-date, with some counties renewing them every year. This does change from county to county, though, so be sure to verify that you have the most recent map available to you.

You should have a copy of at least one of these maps in your records. If not, you can request them from your local assessor’s office. In some cases, you can even request them online. You can usually do this through your local government’s land records, building, or tax department.

Step 3: Look for Property Markers

J5M/Shutterstock

J5M/Shutterstock

As mentioned above, some properties have obvious landmarks such as streets or rivers as their limits. When this is not the case, surveyors will often leave behind artificial marks as a record of where your property ends. These come in two main forms.

The first kind of property marker is a temporary flag. These small, brightly colored flags are designed to be easily spotted and are usually quite fragile. They are only intended to mark off an area for a short time until a more permanent method is installed. If you’ve had a survey done recently, you may have flags.

The second kind is permanent markers. Though they can be made of wood or concrete, the most common property markers are metal stakes. These markers are thicker rods of steel or another durable metal that are driven into the ground and either completely buried or left with a small, colored cap sticking out of the ground. 

If you haven’t had a survey done recently, then these are the most likely markers to look for. Consider going to the likely edge of your property, as designated by your deed and plat map, and using a metal detector to find these markers. Dig down to verify the marker if you can’t see a cap.

Step 4: Get Your Land Surveyed

Sorn340 Studio Images/Shutterstock

Sorn340 Studio Images/Shutterstock

If you’re unable to find any property markers on your land’s edge, then it may be time to call in a new survey. This means contacting a land surveyor, either directly or through your mortgage or title company.

Licensed surveyors are trained to make exact measurements of your property using specialized equipment, basing their surveys on the existing legal information. These surveyors can either be government-sponsored or hired by real estate companies to assess properties prior to their sale.

Hiring a land surveyor can be relatively expensive. According to Home Advisor, the whole project will cost, on average, between $347 and $680, with higher prices for larger plots of land or more populous areas.

Remember to check that the surveyor you hire is licensed and experienced in working with properties in your area. This information should be freely available upon request, as all professional surveyors need to pass certain exams and be in good legal standing with your state’s professional board.

Step 5: Keep a Record

RobDun/Shutterstock

RobDun/Shutterstock

Once you’ve determined your property’s borders, be sure to request updated paperwork for your records. Get an updated survey results record, plat map, and deed – for which you’ll want to consult a legal professional to make sure it’s accurate.

Alongside your land records, you’ll want to keep a copy of your mortgage for the life of your ownership of the property. If you’ve just moved in, you should keep a copy of the closing agreement for at least a year after closing. These records can be physical or digital, and you should keep a backup as well.

You’ll also want to turn in those updated land records to your local government property agency so that they have them on file. You may also consider sharing the information you’ve found with your neighbors – especially the results of any surveys – so that they can have an up-to-date record of their property as well.

How to Find Property Lines for Free

Homeowner’s Deed

A homeowner’s deed should include a legal description of the plot of land, including its measurements, shape, block and lot number, and other identifiers such as landmarks and geographical features. If the language is tricky, reach out to your real estate lawyer or agent for help in deciphering it.

A Tape Measure

If you want to visually confirm your property lines, you can use a tape measure to determine the boundaries. From a known point detailed in the deed’s description, measure to the property’s edge and place a stake at that point as a marker.

After all the edges have been determined, measure the distance between the stakes. Compare the results to make sure they match the corresponding deed or plat.

Existing Property Survey from Mortgage or Title Company

Most mortgage lenders require prospective homeowners to have a current survey, and your title insurance also depends on it. If you bought your home recently but don’t have the survey, contact either company to see if they have a copy on file.

Existing Property Survey from County or Local Municipality

A property’s history and legalrecords are generally kept in the municipality or county’s tax assessor’s office or in its land records or building department. You can usually begin your search by going online to access the relevant property records. Most municipalities offer this information for free, but some offices may require a small fee or ask that you access the records in person.

Buried Pins

At the corners of your property, you may be able to find steel bars that have been buried, sometimes still visible, with a marked cap on the top end. These were likely placed on your land when a survey was completed. If you can’t readily see the pins (they may have been buried over time), use a metal detector to help you locate them.

While this isn’t a legally binding way to determine your property lines, it will give you a good idea of the boundaries. Warning: Before you start digging, call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline, to request the location of buried utilities you don’t want to inadvertently dig into an underground utility line.

Use an App

Download an app like LandGlide that uses GPS to determine a parcel’s property lines. LandGlide is free for the first seven days.

The Bottom Line

Knowing property lines is an important part of both buying a home and owning a home. When buying, property lines lay out in black and white what you’re buying. As a homeowner, property lines let you know what you’re responsible for. If a tree falls across a property line after a storm, it’s important to know who’s liable for cleaning it up and covering damages. By knowing how property lines are calculated and what to do if your neighbor builds on your property, you’re a responsible property owner. Taking care of what you own is essential to maintaining its value, both in the financial sense and the personal sense.

For more helpful information on home buying, owning and selling, check out the articles in the Quicken Loans® Learning Center.

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