As a homeowner, you likely have a general idea of where your property begins and ends. You may be using your driveway, the edge of your lawn, or a fence as a reference point. But are you sure those are the official property lines? They actually might not be.
So before you dive into any outdoor projects like a garage addition, fence replacement, pool installation, or landscaping upgrades, it is important to take a step back to assess your property’s boundaries. You’ll want to be able to enjoy the improvements to your house or yard without disrupting property lines and potentially causing issues with your neighbors.
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.
Why is it important to know the location of your property lines?
Property lines are in place to keep one property owner from encroaching on another owner’s land or compromising their privacy by building too close to their house. A typical encroachment might be tree limbs that grow past your property and overhang into a neighbor’s yard or a driveway poured to extend onto a neighbor’s property. When you know exactly where your property lines fall, you’ll avoid accidentally encroaching on your neighbor’s land.
If you plan to build a permanent structure, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible, and ordering your own land survey is the best option. In most states, you are required to call a diggers hotline 811 to request buried utility information before you build a fence, plant a tree, or extend your driveway. This call ensures you know the location of any buried wires or irrigation systems to avoid causing damage. Within a few days’ notice, someone from your local utility company should be able to mark county wires or pipes with spray paint or flags.
Since property line information can be valuable to someone you may sell your house to, you will want to keep all records. Keep a copy of a new survey you’ve completed, a plat map, or any information from the city or county offices in digital or hard copy format. If you do a new survey, you may also need to register it with your county assessor or recorder. During the sale of a property, the title company will search for encroachment of one property into another. They may refuse title insurance to the seller if they find a property line dispute.
When you know how to find your property lines, you’ll gain peace of mind for any project that could come close to the edge of the property. Showing respect for your neighbor and their property rights can help you avoid a lawsuit.
12 ways to find property lines
To avoid issues with property lines and prevent confrontation with your neighbors, here are 12 easy ways to find property lines.
1. Hire a licensed land surveyor
The most accurate way to know where your land begins and ends is to hire a surveyor to determine your property lines. The property surveyor will first check county records to understand the history of the lot. Then they will find out about easements, subdivisions, and any other important factors that could affect your land and what you choose to do with it. The cost to hire a licensed land surveyor typically runs between $330 and $670 per survey and depending on the location, size, and property history, it could be up to $1,000 per survey.
2. Review your property deed
Your property deed will give you a tax description of your property. This tax description explains the boundaries of your plot of land. The description often references the names of subdivisions and other land references that may no longer be in the area, such as a row of trees. You can get a copy of your deed online or from your county recorder’s office for a fee.
3. Check the metes and bounds survey
A metes and bounds survey identifies a landmark to define the property boundaries, such as a tree, creek, road, or intersection. This is the “place of beginning” or POB. You can then use a compass to follow the directions provided. This survey can be hard to understand because it often uses landmarks that may no longer exist. For example, the survey may state that a property line extends “fifty meters from the tall maple.” However, that maple tree may no longer be standing.
4. Read the property line map, or ‘plat’
When you buy a house, you typically receive a plat or property line map. If you don’t, you can find it at the county clerk’s office. The plat will give you the exact dimensions of your lot related to other lots on your block. For a property on a residential street, expect to see similarly sized rectangles lined up on each side of the street, showing each privately owned property. Every individual property will be labeled with an identifying number. This number is separate from the parcel number for tax purposes. Your neighbors may be able to help as well. You can ask them if they have a copy of their plat map, which would show the neighborhood.
5. Ask for the property survey from your mortgage or title company
If you finance your home purchase through a lender, the lender will typically require a property survey. Your mortgage company should have a copy of this survey from the purchase transaction. The title company will also run a property search and may have a copy of any surveys or property line maps completed for your property.
6. Review the existing property survey from your county or local municipality
Property surveys are public records and you can request a copy of any existing surveys from your county or local municipality. If the county or municipality has completed a survey for your plot of land, they will have a copy. They usually charge a fee to reproduce it.
7. Locate a hidden survey pin
During construction, builders often use survey pins to mark the plot of land. Look for thin iron bars staked into the ground in the general area you expect your property lines to be. A metal detector can be a helpful tool for your search along the perimeter of your property. You’ll often find survey pins close to a sidewalk or the curb of the property. However, survey pins can be misleading as utility companies, tree-removal companies, and other contractors may have moved them in the course of their work.
8. Look for property line markers
Locating property line markers is another alternative to finding survey pins. Property line markers can be made of metal, wood, or concrete. For a relatively new home, the property boundary markers might still be in place. If you find survey pins or concrete boundary markers, they are likely to be more accurate, as wooden stakes are more easily moved. Check your plat map to see where to look for property line markers.
9. Check sidewalks and street lights
Sidewalks and street lights can give you a good visual reference if you don’t know how to find property lines. While they are not a perfect reference, installers may have aligned sidewalks or streetlights with the property lines. Start by looking at the lines cut into the sidewalk in front of the house. A contractor may have cut lines to meet up with the edge of the property or used slightly different concrete to separate properties. This method is a good starting point but be sure to use it in conjunction with a survey or plat map to ensure accuracy.
10. Visit the local zoning department
Your municipality’s zoning department records plats showing land division. They will have maps drawn to scale for your property. Unless your home was built over a hundred years ago, you can ask for a copy of your neighborhood and lot plat for a minimal fee. The zoning department records will give you the exact dimensions of your lot.
11. Search online for your property line
Looking online for your property line might be one of the fastest ways to acquire property information today. Many counties and municipalities have plat maps on their Geographical Information System (GIS), accessible through the official county or assessor’s website. This information can be a helpful guide as a start and could get you close enough for your intended purpose. Usually, you can input your address to search up a copy of your property map. It should show your house and any other structures, along with your property lines.
Other GPS apps can provide you with accurate plat maps. LandGlide and Landgrid are two used most commonly by property owners.
- LandGlide app– The LandGlide app uses GPS to pinpoint your property’s location accurately. The app includes parcel records in 3,000 counties throughout the country, covering more than 95% of the United States. The app is available on IOS and Android devices; it offers a free trial, and it is a paid subscription service after your trial expires.
- Landgrid Map – The Landgrid app allows users to view more than 149 million properties nationwide and includes ownership & address information. The app has a survey editor that will allow you to create your survey. The pro version allows users to access premium fields, bookmark properties, run surveys, and utilize various web features.
12. Measure the Property Yourself
You could measure your lot by hand. To do this, you’ll need a long measuring tape, a compass, and perhaps an assistant. Retrace the surveyor’s steps by locating the starting point labeled on the plat. This will be the “common point” or POB. Once you find the starting point, use the measuring tape to follow the plat, recording measurements as you go. The plat measurements should correspond with the ones you record yourself.
Why you might want to locate property lines before you purchase a house
As a homebuyer, exercise caution regarding property lines as you move through the purchase process. The previous owners may have failed to account for property lines before they started various home improvements and could have encroached on a neighbor’s property. Ask your lender for a copy of the completed survey – you may learn that the property is smaller than you expected. Or, an encroachment issue could prompt you to renegotiate the deal or walk away altogether.
If you love the home, a suitable compromise could involve a boundary line agreement after the purchase. A boundary line agreement is a legal contract to settle disputes between neighbors over property boundaries and provides an agreement on property line usage without going to court.
There are fast, easy, precise, and cost-effective ways to find property lines, whether it’s for a property you own or one you plan to purchase. Make sure to gather accurate information when buying a home or starting any construction or landscaping project.
How to Find Your Property Lines: Fast, Easy, and Precise is written by Emily Huddleston for www.redfin.com