How Do I Know Where My Property Lines Are?

Aside from not holding late-night band practice in your garage, knowing the location of your property lines is one of the best ways to avoid disputes with your neighbors.

Property lines are the defined points where one owner’s land ends and the neighboring property begins. A property ownPicket fenceer uses boundary lines to determine where to legally place features such as fences, pools, garages or driveways. Erecting a structure on or partially on another person’s property can lead to disputes and, often, lawsuits.

Finding out where your property lines are is not difficult:

Check your deed

Your deed contains a description — in words — of your property’s boundaries. Following the description, you should be able to measure from named landmarks to determine the location of your boundaries. Just be warned: The description may rely on the location of a tree that no longer exists or a creek that has gone dry.

If the most recent deed for your property does not contain this sort of description, it will refer you back to an older deed. Keep following the references back, until you find a deed with a description of the boundaries.

Review your property survey

When you bought your home, it’s likely you received a map, also known as a plat, showing property lines and measurements. If it wasn’t included with your paperwork, check with your local clerk’s or surveyor’s office. Some of these maps may be available online, while others will be hard copies or microfiche copies. Even maps of neighboring properties can be valuable if they show shared property lines.

If you live in a subdivision or neighborhood in which many homes appear to have been built around the same time, it is possible your deed’s legal description will be vague, reading something like “Parcel 17, New Castle Development” or “Lot 7, Second Addition.” This is an indication that surveyors created multiple lots at the same time and drew one map showing where they were all located. You should be able to find the master plat in public records.

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.



Tips for Protecting Your View

Woman staring out the windowA view can often be the most valuable part of a piece of property. Water, mountains, even territorial views of foliage add a sense of wonder, serenity and enrichment to what we see when we look out our windows.

Therefore, any encroachment or threat to that highly prized view should be taken seriously. But what, if anything, can a homeowner do when someone — or something — threatens to take that view away?

It all depends on where you live and who has jurisdiction over your neighborhood. And it ranges from absolutely nothing to very specific rules.

Urban ordinances

One of the first view ordinances was the New York City 1916 Zoning Resolution, a measure adopted primarily to stop massive buildings from preventing light and air from reaching the streets below. Houston, meanwhile, is unique as the largest city in the country with no zoning ordinances! Can you say urban sprawl?

Suburban disputes

Then we have the suburbs, with manicured lawns, pampered shrubs and CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) favored by new planned communities and homeowners associations. Here’s one interesting view dispute example to consider — involving a former Major League Baseball player who claimed the trees that belonged to his Presbyterian minister neighbor were blocking his view. Both parties evoked their Christian faith. But in the end, the decision came down to a ruling by the city’s Board of Adjustment, which cited the city’s tree ordinance in ruling in favor of John Olerudand his wife, Kelly.

When the Oleruds couldn’t persuade their neighbors Bruce and Linda Baker to remove two 50-foot trees, they took it up with the city of Clyde Hill, WA. Ultimately the city ruled that the Oleruds could pay the Bakers more than $60,000 to remove and replace the trees with shorter varieties. Citing their Christian faith — and the realization they would still be neighbors — the Oleruds also agreed to a pay a $25,000 “tithe” of the property value increase to a charity of their choice.

Of course, not all view disputes end this way. However, they certainly can have a lot of drama if both parties aren’t as amenable to a solution.

Resolving disputes

When considering whether your view has any protection, consider these questions:

  • Do you and the neighbor who may be trying to block your view live in the same homeowners association — one that perhaps restricts how high trees and other structures can be?
  • Does your property have a recorded right against the neighbor’s property that limits the height of trees and other structures on the neighbor’s property?

If the answer to both questions is “no,” you probably have no legal power to limit the height of trees on your neighbor’s property. In many states, for example, you have no inherent right to views or sunlight or similar properties.

Meanwhile, some cities and counties have ordinances regulating things such as fences and hedges. If your neighbor’s trees are being used as a fence or a hedge, their height may be subject to regulation.

real estate attorney can review the history of your property to see whether there are restrictions if you and the neighbor are in the same homeowners association or whether your property has some recorded rights against the neighbor’s property.

If you don’t already have an established right to limit the height of the neighbor’s trees, you could always try to buy that right from the neighbor, as the Oleruds did. It’s also possible the neighbor wants to trim the trees to keep the view but does not have the money. Try offering to pay and see what happens.

What if a neighbor wants to build an addition to the home or a commercial building, which could block your view and degrade your property value?

Check for zoning restrictions or covenants. With help from a creative real estate attorney, you might also be able to argue easement rights to the open space above your neighbor’s home.

Neighbor disputes can quickly turn emotional, especially when the view you paid for and love is threatened. But these neighbors are yours to keep until someone moves. It’s best to find an amicable solution to keep your “home sweet home” a place you still want to return to every day.


10 Turn-Offs For Potential Buyers

As real estate markets continue to recover around the country, buyers are out in full force. Many of today’s buyers make judgments about homes within moments of seeing a listing online. They are also more cautious than before the housing crisis. They want to make sure they’re buying the best house and for the best amount of money. For sellers, that means giving buyers what they want. Though it’s a home first and foremost, it’s also an investment. If you’re planning to put your house on the market, here are ten ways you might be turning off potential buyers.

Flickr: Elliot Cable

1. A garage turned into something else.

If you’ve sacrificed the garage for something other than the garage, the trade-off might actually be a turn-off, especially to people where parking is at a premium. Even in the suburbs, most people want a covered, secure place to park their cars. Don’t forget that a garage often doubles as a storage location. The garage houses everything from lawn mower to the excess paper towels and cleansers. If you convert your garage into something else, you’re likely to force a buyer to look elsewhere.

Flickr: Apuch

2. A bedroom turned into something else.

Aside from location, one of the first things a buyer searches for is number of bedrooms. Why? Because it’s an important requirement. You might think having a wine cellar, with built-in refrigerators, in your home will make it attractive to potential buyers because it was attractive to you. And while it’s true many people work from home today at least part of the time, that doesn’t mean they want a dedicated home office—especially one with built-in desks or bookcases that would need to be removed. If you must convert a bedroom into something else, make sure you can easily convert it back into a bedroom when you go to sell.

wood under carpet

3. Carpet over hardwood floors.

Many people today like hardwood floors. They are cleaner looking, add a design element, don’t show dirt as much, and they’re definitely preferred over carpets for people with allergies. If you have nice hardwood floors, show them off. Let the buyer decide if he or she wants to cover them. It’s easier for a buyer to purchase new carpeting of their choosing than it is for them to get past yours.

Flickr: Nancy Hugo

4. Over-the-top lighting fixtures.

A beautiful chandelier can enliven a dining room. But it can also turn off buyers who prefer simpler, less ornate lighting fixtures. Did you fall in love with a dark light fixture on a trip to Casablanca? That’s great. And you should use it for your own enjoyment. But when it comes time to sell, replace it with something more neutral.

Photo: Zillow Digs

5. The kid’s room that is a miniature theme park.

Little kids have big imaginations. They tend to love Disney characters, spaceships, super heroes, and such, and their parents are often all-too-willing to turn their rooms into fantasy caves. But the more you transform a kid’s bedroom into something resembling a Disneyland ride, the more you’ll turn off most potential buyers. Your buyer might have teenage children who will see the removal of wallpaper, paint or little-kid-inspired light fixtures as work. If you can, neutralize the kid’s rooms before you go on the market.

Flickr: Chris Graziloi

6. An above-ground pool.

Does it get hot in the summers where you live? Wish you had a backyard pool but can’t afford to have a ‘real’ pool installed? Then you might be tempted to buy and set up an above-ground pool. For most potential buyers, though, these pools are an eyesore. Also, an above-ground pool can leave a big dead spot of grass in your backyard — another eyesore. If you must have it, consider dismantling it before going on the market. Of course, be sure you’re really ready to sell or you may be stuck without a place to cool off next summer.


7. An in-ground pool.

You might assume that a gorgeous backyard pool will make a splash with potential buyers. Except in warm climates, where pools are truly an important amenity, many people see a backyard pool as a huge maintenance issue — not to mention a liability. If you live in an area where pools aren’t that common, seriously consider your decision. If you’re planning to be in the home for the long haul and you’ll get lots of use out of it, go for it.

Flickr: Laura D'Alessandro

8. Avocado-green kitchen fixtures.

If your home is decades old and the kitchen looks like something from The Brady Bunch, consider investing in a quick once-over. Some new stainless steel appliances and granite countertops can be installed in no time and the cost and hassle is a lot less than you think. More buyers prefer to move right in. Do the work for them and you increase your bottom line.

Flickr: Jocelyn

9. Cigarette smell through the house.

Over time, the smell of smoke permeates your home. It gets into the carpet, drapes, wood paneling, just about everywhere — a big turnoff to most buyers today. Getting rid of the smoke smell can be a big job. If you’re a smoker, seriously consider how you want to present your home to the market. For a long- term smoke-filled home, it means new paint, removing carpets and doing lots of deep cleaning.

Flickr: Tom Childers

10. Keep Fido’s bed and toys front and center

Let’s face it; family pets bring a lot of joy to the home. But, they don’t always bring the same joy to a prospective buyer. Dog’s toys, filled with saliva, dirt and dust can be a sore both for the eyes and the nose. If you have a pet, put a plan in place to move the food and water bowls as well as the toys and dog’s bed to a better location, like the garage. Homes that smell and show like animals can scare buyers off.

It’s your home — for now

Part of the joy of owning a home is that you can do whatever you want with it, to it, and in it. You should enjoy it. But if you want to sell it easily and for top dollar down the road, try to picture how others might react to any renovations, additions or modifications you make. The more specific you get — such as turning your kid’s room into a miniature castle from Cinderella — the harder it will be to sell your home later, and the less return on investment you’ll get. When considering changes to your home, always consider resale.


Up Your Home’s Curb Appeal with Front Yard Landscaping


By Larry Bilotti

Tropical plants and palm trees fit the climate and architecture of this Hawaii home. Landscaping by Suzman Design Associates

Your front yard, regardless of its size, plays an important role in your home’s overall curb appeal. Your landscaping, however, goes well beyond just a beautiful lawn. It should take into account the style and size of your house, how it’s sited on the property, the amount of sunlight the yard receives and how to best enhance it with plantings, bushes, shrubs and trees. It should also include hardscaping features, from walkways and driveways to raised beds, planters and decorative containers.

What are the best practices for front-yard landscaping? To learn more, we reached out to Dorian Winslow, a certified landscape designer and the owner and president of Womanswork, an online retailer of gardening apparel and supplies. Here are her 12 tips for successful front yard landscaping.

1. Find your focus

Every view in your landscape should have a focal point. “For your front yard, the focal point is the front door, so be sure you don’t hide it,” advises Winslow. If you are considering major plantings such as trees, think about how they will frame the front door as you approach your house.

2. Use ground covers

Ground covers are a low-maintenance alternative — and complement — to grass. “Because they’re low to the ground and dense, they give a neat appearance with very little maintenance,” says Winslow. “They also allow you to introduce spring bulbs to your landscape because the ground cover hides the dead leaves after the bulbs bloom.” Be sure you research what ground covers work (culturally) with the trees in your yard.

The path to the front door of this home is curved but not meandering. Source: Eduardo Mendoza

3. Set the right path

When considering the pathway from the driveway to your front door, Winslow says to “remember that our natural instinct is to take the most direct route to where we’re going.” A curved path to the front door is nice, but a meandering path may not be. “If you want to take your visitors on a circuitous route, be sure you plant densely along each side of your path,” she adds. “Otherwise, your guests will cut their own path across your grass to get to the front door.”

4. Rethink foundation plants

“Avoid treating foundation plants as if they were little soldiers pressed up along the perimeter of your house,” advises Winslow. “For a two-story house, foundation plantings should extend at least 8 feet out from the house.” And remember, a curved garden bed can soften the lines of your house in a pleasing way. Be sure the shrubs that are placed closest to your house are not taller than the windows, or they will block the light coming into your house and the view from inside looking out. When you’re planting shrubs, think about how they will look in three to five years. “You don’t want to select varieties that will block your windows,” she adds.

5. Add some privacy

If you are looking to add some privacy in your yard, consider a buffer of shrubs, suggests Winslow. “A buffer that includes multiple plants at varying heights can accomplish the same thing as a solid hedge or a fence but is far more welcoming,” says Winslow. Alternatively, if you are just trying to block the view from a particular room — or a part of your yard from your neighbors — plant a couple of trees or shrubs with strategic precision.

6. Deter the deer

If deer are an issue, select shrubs that are deciduous (lose their leaves in the winter) but retain their form even when their leaves are gone. This will help preserve the structure of your garden in all seasons.

7. Consider the light

“Your house is a large object that will block the sun for part of every day,” notes Winslow. If your house faces north, the front yard is never going to get great light. If it faces east or west, it may get searing sun for part of the day and then no sun for the remainder. Make your plant choices with that in mind, advises Winslow.

Pavers dress up the edge of this driveway. Source: All Oregon Landscaping

8. Think long term

If you’re planting trees in front of your house, plan 12 to 15 years out. They are considered a permanent fixture of the landscape, so you want to be sure they are not too close to the house. “If you are thinking of selling your house, a tree can be an asset — unless it is one that prospective owners think they will have to remove; then it’s a liability,” cautions Winslow.

9. Dress up the drive

If you have a standard asphalt driveway that you want to enhance, install a border of Belgian blocks (more expensive) or cement pavers (less expensive) along the edges of your driveway. A border gives the driveway a more finished and rich look.

10. Create an entrance

“If your driveway is a straight line from the street to the house,” says Winslow, “soften the line with a curved planting bed where thedriveway meets the front corner of your yard.” This will create a pleasing, sweeping effect as you approach the house.

11. Add a flowering tree

A flowering tree provides wonderful curb appeal and is welcoming for those few weeks in spring when it’s in bloom. Flowering varieties provide fragrance and usually don’t block the house, because they tend to be smaller trees.

12. Keep it simple

Don’t crowd your front yard with lots of objects or plants. Have a clear structure to the design and a focal point.


How to Select the Right Rental

Residential leases are sometimes seen as inconvenient because they typically only last one year and moving is often a hassle. But a more thorough search can help prevent too-frequent moves.

Want to find the right rental and settle in for the long term? In order to scope out the perfect residence and become a longstanding occupant, you should develop a renting strategy. Here are some steps to help you improve your search for a rental home.

Pay close attention to exterior features before making final decisions about a rental property.

Set priorities

Before beginning your search, decide what kind of rental best fits your needs. Renters with pets, for example, should consider leasing from private owners rather than multi-family property managers.

Finance writer Michelle Schroeder gauged practicality before deciding which lease to sign.

“We knew we wanted a house so that we could have a dog. I was a naive 18 year old, but luckily a family member was looking for a reliable renter,” she said.

You should also pay close attention to amenities and exterior features before making final decisions. Rand Owens, vice president of marketing at Happy Inspector, says high rises and rentals in noisy environments, or rentals with close proximity to freeways or train tracks were all eliminated from his search.

Consider budgets

Calculate your rental budget by bearing in mind size requirements and locations preferences. Additional amenities — including updated appliances and granite countertops — cost extra, but may be worth the added comfort.

While you should spend enough on a rental to be happy, don’t put yourself in a financial bind just to live in a luxurious abode.

“I think the most important factor is affordability. No one likes to live in a place where they can barely afford the rent struggling to just get by,” says live-in landlord Mike Choi.

Compare properties

Make sure you are getting a fair arrangement by comparing your prospective apartment with other properties on the market. Financial consultant Mark Ferguson advises to allocate ample time for research.

“I would start looking well before I needed a place to live. The more time you have to prepare, the better place you will get. Many times I was rushed and forced into whatever was available,” he said.

Sean Bryant of One Smart Dollar said he started pursuing a home two months before his planned move date which has prevented him from having any regrets about his rental choices. Starting early gives renters the chance to weigh out all opportunities.

Remember, two comparable properties can vary substantially in price depending on their respective locations, so don’t assume smaller, more expensive apartments are necessarily bad deals.

tug of war

Negotiate contracts

Always attempt to get the most out of your lease. For example, a lessee may be able to receive a designated parking spot or storage space at no additional cost.

Be frugal and realistic at the same time. The experts of The Rental Resource stress the importance of being informed about the current rental market and the advantages or disadvantages for landlords based on the market.

“Negotiate, yes, but only slightly. Good rentals don’t have much of a discount available because there is plenty of demand,” the organization advises.

Demanding candidates can be a red flag for property management companies, and you don’t want to drive them to consider more easygoing applicants.

Attend walk-throughs

Don’t be shy about checking out potential apartments before locking them down. Michelle Sherman of the National Apartment Association encourages caution prior to signing a lease.

“I went through not one, but two walk-throughs of my apartment before I signed my lease. The leasing agent wanted to make sure that I was 100 percent comfortable with the apartment,” she said.

Note any damages that could potentially cause stress. Neglected repairs are huge inconveniences — especially when they involve expected amenities that are included in the cost of rent.

While staying aware of your requirements, try to keep an open mind. Renters can usually exhaust all options by allowing sufficient time between initial searches and probable move dates.


6 Renovation Tips for New Landlords

Brooklyn apartment

If you’re new to investing in real estate, you’ll probably be really excited when you close escrow on your first purchase. That’s great because real estate investing can be a very good way to improve your long-term wealth picture. However, if you are an average real estate investor — as 99 percent of us are — that excitement will turn quickly to the realization that a lot of hard work is coming to your plate, especially when it comes to renovating your new investment property.

Here are some items you should be aware of so you can better prepare for your future as a real estate mogul.

Budget money and time wisely

As your closing come close, you are probably putting together a starry-eyed list of all the improvements you’re going to make on a shoestring of a budget. Of course the repairs will also be completed in 30 days so you can rent the property out and start earning some income. Not going to happen! Once you get going and realize improvements cost much more than you thought and take longer to complete, you’ll be doing some major revisions to your estimates. Be cautious when estimating a low-priced and quick-turnaround renovation, as that rarely ends up being the case.

Expect to invest your sweat equity

To better educate yourself and minimize budget overruns, plan on spending a lot of time at the property from the day you close escrow until about one month after it is occupied by renters. Why? Because it’s a lot of hard work — getting bids, waiting for deliveries, reviewing work, doing work, shopping for supplies (and more supplies), advertising your property, reviewing rental applications. You’ll be doing it all at your new property. It may start out fun but will not end that way; however, you are in this for long-term wealth building, and that’s why you are willing to invest your time and energy in hopes of a better retirement.

Don’t take the first bid

You must get several bids to ensure that you’re getting a fair price for any contracting work. The more expensive the job, the more bids you should get. This is going to be exhausting and time consuming. However, doing your legwork can lead to better and/or less expensive bids in the long run.

Focus on paint and flooring

If the paint and flooring in your property don’t look nice — and they usually don’t  — fix them! It’s going to cost some money, but hopefully you’ll get a little more rent when you make these improvements.

  • Paint: Use a bright and neutral color, and paint all the walls the same color and sheen. When you have to do touch-ups down the road, it’s nice to just have one color in the property, and you can always have a can of that color on hand.
  • Flooring: Your flooring options include carpet, tile, wood laminate and vinyl. Tile is best for kitchens and bathrooms due to water and moisture issues. Wood laminate is best for elsewhere due to its durability and easy cleaning. Carpet is not good for rentals as it stains easily, and every new tenant wants new carpet. Shop around: You can find some good laminate deals, and it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to install.

Check for plumbing and electrical issues

Properties that are more than 20 years old usually should have the water valves and electrical outlets replaced. So round up a few plumbers and electricians and get some bids. Do this while the property is empty. Water valves, supply line hoses, washing machine and dishwasher hoses and drains pose the biggest leak and flood risk. Change them all out. Electrical outlets and covers are not as big a risk, but usually look really bad with many coats of different color paint on them. An electrician can change out a whole house of outlets and on/off switches in half a day or less.

Don’t go for the lowest-priced supplies

When you get bids and are reviewing costs at a home improvement store, don’t just pick the least expensive supplies. Those items will never stick when you are actually making the decisions on what to contract for and purchase for your rental. You’ll end up buying the more expensive stuff, creating a budget headache that could have been avoided.

These basic tips should be supplemented with your investigation and seeking guidance from experienced real estate investors in your area. They’ll have other good advice, too. Just don’t think being a real estate investor is an easy walk in the park. It’s more like a marathon in the hot sun with a lot of hard work. But this hard work and determination will make your eventual success even more rewarding!


Colonial Homes for ‘American Dream Builders’ Fans

If you look at historic homes from the original 13 colonies, you’ll likely see architecture reminiscent of early English and Dutch houses on the Atlantic seaboard. Defined broadly as the colonial style, these homes reflect the tradition and elegance of European architecture with tasteful moldings, pediments, shutters and stately columns. The style spread across the U.S. in the first half of the 20th century and continues to be popular among homeowners today.

This week on NBC reality show American Dream Builders, the remaining six designers restored an early 20th-century colonial duplex. In addition to bringing in contemporary amenities, they added several architectural elements true to the period, including interior and exterior columns, a gable pediment, applied molding, new shutters and more. As a result, the Zestimate® home value increased by 36 percent. While the Zestimate is not a substitute for an appraisal, it’s a great starting point for determining a home’s value.

To see more homes in the style, we’ve gathered five beautiful colonials for sale across the country. Click on the links below to see each home’s Zestimate, square footage, interior photos and more.

Springfield, MO

900 E Sunshine St, Springfield, MO
For sale: $159,000

Springfield, MO
This Pennsylvania cottage was built in 1936 and has been lovingly restored with several period details. Like Lukas’ design on the show, the kitchen combines classic white cabinets and an apron-front sink with high-end appliances. The living room features beautiful hardwood floors and a fireplace with colonial-style molding.

Dayton, OH

100 E Dixon Ave, Dayton, OH
For sale: $339,000

Dayton, OH
This Dutch colonial is for sale on one of Oakwood’s most sought-after streets near top-rated schools. Dating back to 1917, the home is in good condition with gleaming hardwoods, chair rail and applied molding. French doors also lead out onto a side porch supported by colonial-style columns.

Wauwatosa, WI

641 N 77th St, Wauwatosa, WI
For sale: $599,900

Wauwatosa, WI
A stately brick colonial, this home has 4 bedrooms, 5 baths, a large family room addition and covered patio. The master bathroom has been updated with a luxury spa bathtub, and the home features six fireplaces throughout.

Woodinville, WA

16903 246th Ave NE, Woodinville, WA
For sale: $1.2 million

Woodinville, WA
Set back behind a gated entrance on a private, 5.6-acre lot, this Woodinville home was custom-built in 2002 to reflect the colonial style while infusing modern amenities throughout the space. The exterior is marked by shutters, columns and a second-floor balcony, while the interior features a grand foyer, sauna and huge master bath.

Rye, NY

320 Grace Church St, Rye, NY
For sale: $3.495 million

Rye, NY
The listing says this “immaculately updated colonial exudes sophisticated good taste.” From high ceilings and French doors to beautiful built-ins and crown moldings — the home is filled with architectural charm and decor fitting for the period.