Yards are in high demand these days—particularly lush backyard spaces—and so much of your home’s value comes down to the amount of earth it’s situated on. Property lines, therefore, are hugely important to the sale and purchase of a home.
You may think you know where your lines are, but having a broad idea isn’t going to cut it in a dispute with a neighbor or while applying for permits to change your space.
“In short, knowing your property lines in advance can really save you massive headaches down the road in the form of time, money, and potential legal action,” says Andrew Pasquella, a Realtor at Sotheby’s International Realty.
Here, experts share their suggestions for figuring out exactly where your lines are and why that’s so important to know.
Determining Your Property Lines
Property lines are finicky things. While they’re usually precisely spelled out in written documents, determining where they are physically while staring at your plot of land can be a bit tricky.
To start, you can look for this information on the plat map, a drawing of your property’s boundaries, or in your deed, says Pasquella.
“Older homes generally had property line information written in the deed but often were based on landmarks that may have shifted or even disappeared or language that may not be clear to the layman today,” he says.
Deeds and plat maps will just offer drawings and figures. To get a real look, you’ll want to have the pros come in.
“I recommend that a homeowner does a property line survey using a professional survey company,” Pasquella says. “This is the surefire method to determine where your boundaries are. The company will put fresh markers so you, and your neighbors, will be able to see them.”
A professional surveyor will spend a few hours at your property, depending on the size, and will charge about $300 to $700 for their services. It can take several days or weeks to receive the results.
If you’re selling a property, a survey is key. And if you’re buying, you might already notice these little stakes have been placed around the perimeter making things clear. It’s not a bad idea to keep them in place even after you move in until you get a good lay of the land.
Why Property Lines Are So Important
Property lines are important for several reasons, the most obvious being that they tell you what you own and what you’re selling.
“It is important for a seller to know where their property lines are and what the property size is, because you are selling that property and you do not want to misrepresent [it],” says Debra Goodwin of Corcoran Legends Realty. “Also, just in case a neighbor decides to build a fence or shed close to your property, you do not want them encroaching upon your property.”
If you’re buying a property, knowing the lines up front is especially key.
“As a buyer, you want to know where your property begins and ends and make sure there is no one claiming any portion of that property,” Goodwin says. “Also, if there are large trees or something that is a potential liability, you want to know if it is your responsibility up front.”
Finally, as a property owner, you’ll need to know these parameters should you decide to modify your property by adding onto your home, building decks or patios, or installing fences. Depending on your property’s location and region, property lines will also dictate features such as swales and ditches, boat ramps, seawalls, easements, and the like.
“If your neighbor has an easement, a legal right to use a portion of your property to enter and exit their property, you want to know how much of your property is to be used and what is not to be used,” Pasquella says.
Handling a Property Line Dispute
Say your neighbor wants to install a fence or someone accuses you of cutting down a tree belonging to them. In these tense situations, knowing your property lines is going to be critical.
If things get dicey, you can of course call in law enforcement, but feuds over property lines typically escalate into matters handled by the civil court. To avoid this, be sure to have your property lines well marked and your information readily available.
“Any construction that comes close to a property line means you should know where your boundaries are. This can include fencing, driveways, garages, accessory dwelling units, and more. If you’re about to spend money on construction, follow the contractor’s wisdom of ‘measure twice to cut once,’” Pasquella says.
If you’re installing a fence or cutting down a tree, be sure the pro you hire has successfully secured a permit with the local authorities first. This will ensure the work is approved with those property lines in mind before you’re in too deep. If you want to skip hiring a professional, you’ll still need to secure those permits to do the work yourself.
“The last thing you’ll want to do is spend even more money tearing something out only to rebuild it a foot away,” Pasquella adds. “The same goes for any improvements your neighbor may have made that could be on your land. The way encroachments are handled could be a simple agreement between neighbors or it could get very complex.”
As always, it pays to have friendly relations with neighbors so you can communicate your plan in advance of doing any work.
“Neighbor relations can make or break your happiness in your home, so I always recommend to at least try to have a good relationship with your neighbor,” Pasquella says. “If a dispute arises, then attempt a calm and balanced conversation to explain the situation to your neighbor. Show them the same evidence you’re basing your dispute on. Maybe even get them involved to share survey costs, or if they want a second opinion you can support that effort.”
If you can’t solve things on your own, your next step will be to contact a real estate attorney, he says.
Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens