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 owner 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.