Buying a Home

Plat Maps: What They Are and Why They’re Important

A plat map is a valuable source of information about a property that you should receive during the closing process of a real estate transaction. A plat map is very important as it dictates a property’s lot size and the location of its boundary lines. 

Don’t let your plat map get lost in the maze of closing paperwork. You should, at the very least, understand what a plat map is and what it’s used for so you can review the document effectively. Issues with your plat map can have lasting effects on the value of your property and how you can use your land. We outlined everything you need to know about plat maps and how to use them below.

What’s the difference between a plat map and plot plans?

A plat map and plot plan are two different, but equally important, property maps you should review during your closing process. Both contain important property information, such as the legal description of the dimensions of your property and where it falls in relation to the surrounding area. 

When comparing the two, a plot plan details a single plot of land— think of it as a close-up on just your property. You’ll see where existing structures fall, boundary measurements of your plot, and any rights of way on the property. In contrast, a plat map details a collection of plots in a single area. A single plat map can vary in size, showing a group of five properties, a neighborhood, or a town. Plat maps can also determine land use, such as your ability to build other structures on the property. 

It’s important to note that not all properties are platted, so a plat map may not always be available. Plat maps can also be changed and updated, so always be sure you’re looking at the most recent available data. 

Plat maps can sometimes be referred to as parcel maps. But often, parcel maps are for government use and identify government boundaries. Sometimes a parcel map is used when several land parcels are being combined— also known as a plat of consolidation. 

When would you need a plat map?

You first receive your plat map during the closing process when you buy a home. You’ll want to pay close attention to the plat map during this process because what it says determines what you’re buying. You’ll need the plat map again if you refinance your home, request a building permit, or if you plan to subdivide your lot. 

When closing on a home, you’ll use the plat map to verify the property in your sale. The plat will show the dimensions of the lot with the legal property lines. You’ll want to ensure: 

  • The property’s structures are built within the property lines
  • There are no encroachments on the property
  • That an existing easement doesn’t interfere with your plans for the property

What’s an encroachment?

An encroachment is when all or part of a neighboring property extends past its property lines. If there are any encroachments, you’ll want them resolved before closing. It can be a major headache to solve property disputes, and you may end up with a smaller property because of it. 

On the other hand, you could take on the responsibility of solving the dispute in exchange for something of value to you in the closing process. For example, the seller could lower the sale price or cover part or all of the closing costs. 

Do you need a survey?

If the property you’re buying has an easement or encroachment, you should order a survey from a licensed property surveyor. You should also order one if there has been any recent land movement or flooding, as this could affect your property lines, topography, and any easements on your property. 

Your average residential lot survey typically costs less than $1,000. However, if you’re buying a large property or one with difficult terrain, the survey could cost more. 

an aerial view of a neighborhood with blue sky in the background

Types of plat maps and the one you want as a homeowner

There are five types of plat maps that you may need as a homeowner. Which one(s) you need will depend on your situation. 

  1. A plat of subdivision records how a tract of land was divided into smaller parcels of land. You’ll need this if you’re buying one of the smaller parcels or if you’re buying a large tract of land that you plan to subdivide. 
  2. A short plat is like a plat of subdivision, but for no more than four separate parcels of land. 
  3. A plat of consolidation exists when several adjacent parcels of land are consolidated into one larger tract of land. You need this if the previous owner bought several parcels of land they’re now selling to you or if you’ve purchased additional parcels of land. 
  4. An amending plat is a map that records changes or corrections to an existing plat map. If there have been any natural or manmade changes to the property, you should get an amending plat. 
  5. A vacating plat legally cancels an existing plat map.

If you’re unsure about the type of plat map you need, your real estate agent, lender, and local municipality can offer guidance on the right plat map(s) for your home. 

What information will you gain from a plat map?

Reviewing your plat map should offer you exact information regarding your property’s:

  • Location: Your street name, street number, the name of your neighborhood, your lot number, and parcel number. 
  • Orientation: Your property’s relationship to cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west). This is important for understanding how the sun will fall across your property and its structures— is it sun-soaked or sun-starved? 
  • Land size: Your boundary lines and their measurements. The square feet of the plot should also be listed. Ensure that the property is the size that the seller has stated,and that everything is built within its boundaries. 
  • Flood zones: Your flood zone affects your home insurance rate, resale value, and where you can build new structures. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to buy in a flood zone, but you should be aware of the flood zone(s) that fall on your property. 
  • Open spaces: Also known as “greenbelts,” these areas are natural lands meant to preserve wild areas. They may be recreational parks, preserves and reserves, wetlands, or wildlife refuges.
  • Recreational areas: This is your area’s parks, playgrounds, and sporting facilities like soccer or baseball fields. 
  • Monuments: In order to survey land accurately, governments have boundary points or markers called monuments and typically look like  stamped metal disks that are often placed in concrete along roads to indicate a property’s boundary points. 
  • Easements: Show part(s) of an area that the public, the government, your neighbors, or private companies have access rights to. They modify your rights as a property owner, so be sure you understand any easements on your property.

More about easements on a plat map

An easement is a legal right to use the property and can be granted to a person, people, a company, or government. The type of easement determines its use and they come in a few forms:

  • A utility easement grants access to a utility company or your municipality for the purpose of providing your area with a utility. That can include electrical lines and utility  poles, water pipes, sewer lines, and gas lines— or access to them— on your property. 
  • A private easement gives another person the right to use the property. For example, you can sell an easement to a neighbor who needs to use it for sewer access. 
  • An access easement, a type of prescriptive easement, is used for community trails or community access roads. 
  • Other prescriptive easements will have specific access reasons attached to them. 

Any easement will be listed on your plat map. Easements are not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s important to know where they are and why they exist. Some easements may make it impossible for you to build on your property or make it difficult to use your land the way you intended. If you have any questions or concerns about the easements on your property, you should speak with a real estate attorney or other legal counsel with knowledge about easements.

waterfront aerial of several homes with mountains in the background

How to read a plat map and know your lot size

When you get your plat map, locate the symbol legend. This will help you read everything correctly and it’ll show you how to find the monuments in your neighborhood. You should also locate the directional arrow (pointing north) and the scale, typically located near each other in the top left or top right corner of the map. 

The plots are more or less rectangular boxes following roads and marked with lot numbers in the middle. Below the lot number is the lot size written in square feet. The parcel number will be listed in smaller numbers within the plot boundary, and the house number will appear just outside your plot boundary along the street line. 

Besides referencing the lot size recorded in your plot box, you can also calculate it. You’ll also find the length of your boundary lines written alongside them inside the box. You should also note any of the easements along the boundary lines. Each easement will have its type and measurements listed. 

How accurate are plat maps?

The accuracy of your plat map depends on how recently it was updated. If the plat map you’re using was created within the past five years, you can rely on it to be mostly accurate. But the older it is, the more likely a discrepancy exists. 

The landscape can change over time due to weather events and other factors. Neighbors may have built new structures, municipalities may have altered roads or alleys, and utility companies may have changed how utilities lay across your property.

If you have any doubts about the accuracy of your plat map, you should get a survey of your plot. This will give you the most accurate information regarding your property. 

beachfront properties with an empty plot next to it

How you can find a plat map for your property

There are several ways to get your plat map, depending on the type of map you need and the reason for getting it. You can obtain the map from: 

  • Your local government, either the city records office or county assessor’s office. 
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), if you need a plat map for federal lands.
  • Your title company provides the plat map among the documents you get as a result of your title search. 

Plat maps are considered a public record, so they can be obtained by anyone. You can also find one in the online database Q Public

Consider hiring a land surveyor for a more precise measurement of your property

If you need to know the exact measurements of your property, you’ll need a land survey. The type of land survey you need, lot size, its terrain, and what you plan to use it for, all affect survey costs. 

When you buy a house, your lender might require a mortgage survey or boundary survey. The mortgage survey outlines the property boundaries and the buildings within them. A boundary survey, which may be referred to as a boundary assessment, just outlines the plot boundary lines.

Mortgage surveys are typically required when you buy extended title insurance, as its details can greatly affect the value of your property. The cost of a mortgage survey is around $500. Boundary surveys are generally less expensive, around $200. 

You can also purchase topographic surveys for around $900, which are needed to develop construction plans. These outline natural features like streams and slopes, as well as man-made features such as buildings. If you only need to construct a fence, a fencing land survey will run you around $550.  

Source
Plat Maps: What They Are and Why They’re Important is written by Alison Bentley for www.redfin.com

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