Property Lines: How To Find And Check Yours
Miranda Crace5-Minute Read
September 07, 2021
Where does your neighbor’s property end and yours begin? You’ve probably always relied on a visual cue, such as your driveway or fence. But are you sure those are the official property lines? You might be wrong, and, believe it or not, that foot or so difference can be a big deal.
What Are Property Lines?
A property line is the legal boundary around a property. These property lines divide the land and define who owns what pieces. They can be defined by physical markers such as ditches, fences and roads, but often the boundaries between neighboring properties are invisible.
It's important to note that, even if you can't see your property lines, there can still be very real consequences for crossing these boundaries. To maintain good relationships with your neighbors and spare yourself the headache of a legal battle, make sure you know exactly where your property starts and ends before beginning any construction or landscaping project.
How To Find Your Property Lines
Now that you know what property lines are, you’re probably wondering how to find out exactly where they lie. There are several sources you can check to definitively determine your property lines.
Look For Physical Boundaries
While you can't rely on these markers for official or legal purposes, physical landmarks can often provide some good clues as to where the edges of your property are. Some markers to look out for include:
- Streetlights and signs
- Fences and stone walls
- Hedges and bushes
- Bodies of water
If you're lucky, you might even find wooden stakes around the edges of your property left over from the last time the land boundaries were surveyed. While you'll probably need to get an official property survey done again before taking any significant action with the land, these stakes can give you a fairly good idea of where your property line is.
Search For Survey Pins
If you don't find any stakes along your property line but think you've had a survey done relatively recently, you might be able to locate hidden survey pins embedded in the ground by using a metal detector.
Just note that, if you do find something, you should be extremely careful before digging into the ground to investigate. There are plenty of utility lines underground that could trigger a metal detector. If you need to confirm the location of a survey pin, contact a service such as 811 or a local office to check where your utilities lines are before digging.
Consult Your Plat And Deed
A plat is a map that shows land divisions, and the plat corresponding to your property should be accessible at your local zoning department office for a small fee. You should also consult your property deed, which has a detailed description of your property lines in relation to reference points, like sewer lines and streetlamps. It may also contain a written history of changes to the property line, potentially due to a previous owner selling off some of the property. If you don’t have your property deed and can’t find or order one online, you can get another copy at your local register of deeds office.
With a precise property map and property deed, you can try to stake out your property lines using a few do-it-yourself steps:
- Measure from the reference point to your property edge.
- Hammer down stakes in the far corners of your lot.
- For smaller lots – use a chalk line to strike a line on the ground from stake to stake.
- For larger lots – add stakes between your corner stakes and run string around them.
The larger and more complex your property is, the more difficult this DIY method is. A 5,000-square-foot lot has less room for error than a multi-acre lot. Accuracy is dependent on your skill level and the tools at your disposal.
Use An Online Resource
Online property maps are a useful, quick reference to find your property lines. They’re a great cue to satisfy your curiosity and a good place to start your research. In general, the more populated your locality, the more information will be online. You can also find mobile apps that offer property line location services.
Many counties may have maps online that show property lines in the area. If searching for your address isn't helping, try going directly to your county's website. They may have online plats, a global information system (GIS) or copies of property deeds and reports.
Keep in mind that these methods should not be used for anything significant, such as a legal agreement where the property lines or legal description is required.
Get A Professional Survey
If accuracy is what you need, you’ll have to hire a surveyor. Boundary surveyors specialize in determining the precise location of property lines. If you’re looking to build an addition or an outbuilding close to your property edge, it’s worth it to hire a professional.
It’s most cost-effective to have an existing survey updated if the lender or title company has one, or if your home is newer, you could ask your neighbors, your builder or your homeowners association if they have a survey they can share. The cost for a property survey can range from $300 – $1,000, depending on the difficulty of the survey and the size and shape of the plot.
Make A Lot Line Agreement
If you want something legally accurate but don’t want to hire a surveyor – and you and your neighbor are on friendly terms – you can also consider making a “Lot Line Agreement.” That’s when a property owner and their neighbor both agree where they want the property boundaries to reside.
Once the property lines are set, you both can go about your business, secure in knowing exactly which dirt officially belongs to you.
Why Property Lines Matter
Knowing where your property lines are is crucial when it comes to protecting yourself, your property and your relationship with your neighbors.
Property line disputes are usually the result of a perceived encroachment, which occurs when anything from a neighbor's property extends onto yours or vice versa. This can happen as a result of new construction, vegetation growth and decay or storm damage. If your neighbor feels you have encroached on your property, it might hurt your relationship or result in a legal battle or easement.
Here are a few examples of actions that could lead to a property dispute if you don't check your lines carefully:
- Building a new shed, swing set or other structure
- Planting trees
- Removing or trimming overgrown trees and bushes
- Removing fallen or damaged trees
- Putting up a fence
- Using a water feature near your neighbor's lawn
When you sell your home, depending on where you live, a few feet of property can also make a huge difference in price. It's important that you get a survey so you, your neighbors and the potential buyer are all treated fairly.
The Bottom Line: Clear Property Lines Make Good Neighbors
Your property lines can have a big impact on your decisions during your time in a home, and
maintaining a good relationship with your neighbor is invaluable. When in doubt, hire a
professional to make sure the job gets done right.
Need your property evaluated now? Learn more about how to get a property survey.
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