How To Find Property Line Markers With a Metal Detector

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.


Metal Detectors and Buried Sprinklers

Yard Sprinklers

Yard Sprinklers

Sprinklers are a great addition to any yard, but sometimes they can cause serious headaches. When they get covered with dirt or just won’t come up anymore, it is important to find the issue and quickly address it before it leaves an impact on your lawn and garden. Luckily, sprinklers are very easy to find with metal detectors, as most sprinklers have many metal parts and are only a few inches below the ground. When you begin using the metal detector, make sure to have the sensitivity as high as you can until it starts intermittently beeping, then turn it down a notch, as there might not be a ton of metal in the sprinkler heads. It is a good idea to use iron discrimination because there is more than likely brass or some other alloy in the sprinkler. If you can get within close proximity of where you think the sprinkler head is, this can save you from digging a bunch of nails and pull tabs. If a previous owner installed them, you may possibly be able to contact them. Once you have found it, gently dig around it with a trowel or spade, being sure to not hit the waterline. Once this is done, you can perform maintenance or call a maintenance professional to get your sprinkler back in order. Using a metal detector is the best and fastest way to locate sprinkler heads in any yard.

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.

Visit the Local Zoning Department

The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relation to other lot lines on your block.

RELATED: Setback Requirements: 7 Things All Homeowners Should Know

How to Find Property Lines Corners

So we’ve determined that you can use a metal detector to find the pins that mark the corners connecting your property lines.  Rather than wander around your property with a metal detector finding loose change and nails from construction, you can save some time by getting a copy of your plot plan first.  Sometimes called an engineered plot plan (or engineers survey), this piece of paper shows how your home sits on your lot and provides the locations of the property corners (a.k.a. pins).  This plot plan should get you within a foot or two of the corner…and then your metal detector will find the steel pin.  If you don’t have a plot plan check with your local building department…many times building departments will keep these on file.

When you find the steel pin connecting the property lines, and it appears to have been moved or is damaged, call a surveyor to verify the exact location.  This will prevent you from dealing with major hassles down the road with a fence that was built over top of property lines.  But why would the pin be damaged or moved?  Here are some possible scenarios…

  • hit by a bull dozer or delivery truck during construction
  • settlement of the soil – if the area was filled during development without proper compaction, it can settle out, causing the pin to move
  • maliciously moved by a kid or a crazy neighbor (I have seen this before  believe it or not)

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 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.

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.

Choosing the Right Metal Detector

Most metal detectors available for local rental are outdated or low-end machines that aren’t easy to use. Even if you get the settings configured correctly, they won’t be able to get deep enough. 

Standard metal detectors can detect objects 6-8” (15 to 20 cm) deep at most. As we mentioned earlier, property markers (particularly in older neighborhoods) tend to be 6” (15 cm) deep at a minimum. And if they’re under rocks or thick landscaping, a typical metal detector won’t be able to detect the pins at all. 

You want a metal detector that’s specifically designed for finding property pins. You want something that’s dead simple to use, can reach as deep as you need it to, and doesn’t have any settings you need to fiddle with.

The right metal detector for finding your property markers is a magnetic locator

What is a magnetic locator?

Unlike standard metal detectors, a magnetic locator is a specialized type of metal detector that measures magnetic fields. They ignore all metals except for magnetic ones.

Because property markers are made of iron, and iron is a magnetic metal, a magnetic locator is the right metal detector for locating your survey pins.

Plus, it’s much easier to use than a standard metal detector.

There aren’t any settings to configure. It’s as simple as turning it on and sweeping across your search area. You’ll watch the display (and listen) for the peaks in signal strength that indicate when you’re nearing a buried iron object.

Where Can I Rent a Magnetic Locator?

Magnetic locators are available for rental from anywhere in the United States. For just $95 per day, you can get a rental shipped directly to your door. Easy to follow instructions and return shipping supplies are included in the box. When you’re finished, just drop it off at your nearest UPS Store. 

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. ]



Operating a metal detector can be overwhelming if you’ve never used one, especially if your main goal is to find a property line marker. However, hiring a professional surveyor can get expensive. Whether you decide to rent or buy a metal detector, we recommend checking out any of our resources on the blog to help guide you through this process.

It’s important to note, that laws vary by state for building fences and other additions. However, knowingly building over your property line is an encroachment onto your neighbor’s property and could result in a legal dispute unless you have your neighbor’s permission in writing. In order to avoid legal issues and determine exact property line markers, you may want to get a second opinion from a professional land surveyor before making any final decisions.

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