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What Are Property Lines in Real Estate?

When you see fences built between houses, you often wonder how the placement was decided. The location of fences or other property features depends on property lines most of the time. Therefore, you must know where the lines begin and end on your property and the property you may want to buy.

What Are Property Lines?

Property lines, or boundary lines, define the boundaries of properties. Boundaries are used when installing fences, pools, or adding features to a home. Some property lines have physical markers, while others are invisible.

An important fact to remember is that the frontage of land is measured by the property line in front of the house. In contrast, your sidelines are the property boundaries on your house's side. Property owners should know this information before making major landscaping decisions or adding a fence to their homes.

How To Find Property Lines

There are a few easy ways for property owners to locate or evaluate their property lines.

1. Use Google Maps.

Google Maps can be used to see free property lines by typing in the property address. In rural areas, property lines are not always visible, but they are available for most residential property searches.

Since Google is a private platform, its property boundary information may not be as accurate as that of the government. To prevent future disputes, consult the official zoning record or get a land survey before working near the property border. However, the information provides a firm idea about the boundary spots, and you can map your property in real-time using your phone's GPS.

Additionally, you can use Google Earth for property lines if you prefer this interactive platform. However, you'll have to use a third-party Geographic Information Service (GIS) and upload a KML file for this to work.

2. Read the 'plat' or property line map.

In a property line basemap, or " plat ," you can see your property's boundaries and include details such as elevations, structures, and bodies of water. Maps of neighboring properties may even be available if you have shared property lines. In most cases, a plat is included in your property's paperwork, available at your local assessor's office, or accessible online.

3. Check the deed to the property.

Your property's deed is one way to determine its boundaries. Your deed should include a legal description of your land's boundaries. If the current deed does not describe the property lines, it will refer you to an older deed. Take note that older deeds may include landmarks or other features that no longer exist.

4. Obtain a property line survey.

An accurate measurement of a land's legal boundaries is called a property line survey. A professional surveyor can measure where your property ends and your neighbor’s area begins if there is no property line survey included with your plat and property deed.

Additionally, land surveyors research subdivisions, easements, and ecological restrictions that relate to a property. It is typical for mortgage lenders to require a new property line survey upon purchase.

5. Find property line markers.

Some newer properties may still have property line markers, such as stakes, from the time the properties were first divided. You can still likely find these markers if you look closely for stakes that are either flush with the ground or sticking up when you walk your property lines.

What Are The Benefits Of Knowing Your Property Lines?

Understanding your property lines is important for several reasons:

1. Easements: If your neighbor's lot is landlocked or is eligible for a shared driveway, they might be entitled to use an edge of your property.

2. Encroachment :  Improvements such as a driveway, garden, playground, or storage shed might be on the wrong property. It may be necessary to litigate or mediate complex situations to resolve issues.

3. New construction:  To avoid encroachment, every fence, driveway, house, and outbuilding should be built within the legal lot lines. It may also be necessary to conduct a survey before constructing a new home.

4. Property disputes:  Determine whether one party or both are responsible for maintaining a fence or cutting down fallen trees. It is also possible to misunderstand where the frontage or sidelines begin and end.

5. Subdivisions: Subdividing an existing plot by selling or gifting unwanted acreage also requires a survey. A survey determines whether or not your new boundary is eligible for title insurance.

It is essential to know the dimensions of your property to avoid legal conflicts and decide how to maintain your tract.

Is it expensive to survey property lines?

It usually costs $300 to $700 to survey a residential property line or $500 on average. It is typically cheaper to conduct surveys on small lots with a conventional layout in a newly developed area where records are clear.

The following are some factors that influence pricing:

  • Lot size and shape: Lots with square or rectangular shapes are cheaper to survey. A plot that is L-shaped or consists of more than one acre requires more work.
  • Terrain: Land with streams, trees, and vegetation can require more frequent measurements.
  • Survey history:  Lots that have not been surveyed for several decades may have physical landmarks that are no longer there. Finding the endpoints and creating the paperwork will require more work from surveyors.
  • Travel distance: Surveyors with long commutes may charge more to offset the costs associated with travel.
  • Geographic location: As each area has a different cost of living and demand, survey costs can also differ by state and city.

The majority of cities and counties have multiple survey companies and you can request free quotes from them. There may also be a wait list, so you should see how soon they can complete the survey.

The Bottom Line

You must understand property lines as a homeowner so that you can respect your neighbor's property and avoid legal disputes. Use one of the strategies mentioned above or check online if you're having trouble finding the property lines of your home. You should ask your neighbor and a real estate agent about your property's rules and regulations before beginning an outdoor project like building a fence on the property line.

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