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Property Lines: How To Find Them And Why They’re Important

Andrew Dehan5-Minute Read
May 22, 2020

Your property lines can have a big impact on your decisions during your time in a home.

For example, if you want to put up a fence or build an addition onto your house, you need to know what property is yours. Maybe you’re looking to buy land for building your dream house and need to distinguish property lines so you know where you can build. Whichever way, when making changes to a property, it’s essential to be aware of the boundaries.

There are several different ways you can find your property lines. Some are cheap and easy, though not necessarily accurate. These are good places to start. Use them to satisfy your curiosity. Other ways require more skill. You may need to hire a professional, depending on the project and your property.

What Is A Property Line?

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 ditches, fences, and roads, but without these markers, they’re invisible.

How To Find My Property Lines Online

Online property maps are a useful, quick reference to find your property lines. These maps help you find your property in relation to your neighborhood. They’re a great cue to satisfy your curiosity and a good place to start your research.

Step 1: Search For Your Local Property Information 

A quick search online for a community or county’s property maps can yield helpful results. In general, the more populated your locality, the more information will be online. Most counties will have general property reports but may have scanned map images or interactive maps.

Step 2: Find The Website For Your County

Your county’s website is likely full of information on your neighborhood’s properties. They may have a Global Information System (GIS) that contains detailed property maps and data, such as home value, tax value and size of the home and lot.

If they don’t have a GIS, then it’s possible that they have scanned images of plat maps, which are created by civil engineers as a property is being developed. Plat maps contain details of land areas, like easement, and property shape and size. 

Step 3: View Maps And Property Information

Once you’ve found your county website, look for information such as property maps, scanned copies of property deeds, and a variety of property reports. When looking at an aerial satellite photo of your home, reference any common markers. Most property developers use common markers such as cross streets and streetlamps to reference for property lines. Compare this to the information on your deed and you can start the process of determining your property line.

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Read Your Property Deed

Your property deed 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.

Visit Your County’s Recorder Or Assessor’s Office

While it may seem like a drag to go in person to an office, you’re going to get your best answers by visiting your county assessor. If accuracy is what you need, you can find it here. For a small fee, you should be able to get a copy of your property map, containing the precise size of your lot.

With a precise property map and property deed, you can easily stake out your property lines.

Stake Out Your Property

Use a long open-reel tape measure or a digital measuring wheel to measure from the reference point to your property edge. Refer to your property map to see the exact dimensions of your property.

Hammer down stakes in the far corners of your lot. If your lot is small enough, you can use a chalk line to strike a line on the ground, measuring from stake to stake. For larger lots, use your measuring wheel or tape measure to add stakes between your corner stakes. Then run string around them to get a visual cue of the boundary.

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.

Hire A Professional

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.

How Much Does It Cost To Have Your Property Lines Marked?

The cost for a property survey can range from $300 – $1,000, with most homeowners spending about $500. Many factors go into pricing, such as the difficulty of the survey needed and the size of the plot. The larger your property and the less standardized its dimensions, the more expensive a professional survey will be.

The only legally binding way to prove exact property boundaries is through a professional survey. Keep this in mind when you plan on adding to your house or property. The money you’ll spend on a survey is worth it when compared to the headache and potential legal trouble. The last thing you want is that beautiful new addition to be tainted by an angry neighbor and a lawsuit.

Why Is It Important To Know Where Your Property Lines Are?

Before you think about building, you need to determine if you can do so. This is where property lines come in. Depending on the structure, many communities have laws on how close to your property line you can build. Keep yourself in your neighborhood’s good graces and out of court by finding your property lines before you start.

Another reason why being aware of your property line is important is knowing who’s responsible for potential messes. If you have a bad storm and a tree falls across the property line, if you know whose property that tree resides on, you know who needs to clean it up. Likewise, if there’s a decaying hedgerow dividing your lot from your neighbor’s, by knowing your property line you can know if you can remove it.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a good relationship with your neighbor is invaluable. When building or adding onto your property, you need to know your property lines. For some instances like removing a tree, a quick search online and a talk with your neighbor may be all you need.

For any project that involves significant building, making the effort to outline your property lines is crucial. Check in with your community about laws regarding fencing and distance a structure must be from the property line. Moving a fence or shrub is one thing, but when you’re putting in a permanent structure, you need to know you’re within your rights. When you decide on that next big project, hire a professional to keep everything in line.

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Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.