Things You Should Know About a Property Line
Are you wondering how property lines work? Maybe you are trying to figure out exactly where your property line is located? If you are nodding your head yes to these questions, you’re not alone.
Understanding how to find property lines are especially important especially after buying a home.
Lots of folks try to research how to find their property lines. Some of the most common problems regarding property boundaries are fences a neighbor wants to construct.
When fences are built between properties, where exactly is the right place to construct them? Getting this wrong can lead to an unpleasant dispute between neighbors, turning into a legal dispute which is when the costs will really begin to mount up.
The positioning of fences between homes will normally come down to where the property lines are. Knowing where the property line is will be crucial if you want to have fences put up, and it can even be an issue if there are already fences on your property.
Perhaps your neighbor plans to put something near the suspected border, but either way, knowing where the property boundary is located is important.
We’ll be taking an in-depth look at how to find property lines so that you don’t find yourself in an unnecessary neighbor dispute.
Defining Property Lines
Property lines are where your ownership of the land starts and finishes. These lines will have been used when you’re home was constructed and will continue to be important at any point after that when additions have been made to your property. This can be when fences are put up, swimming pools installed, and home additions are constructed.
The front property line is known as your frontage or the length of the amount of land you own in front of your property.
The boundaries on the side of your property are known as sidelines. Local zoning laws often dictate these distances.
For example, you may live in an area where you must have 150 feet of frontage. In order for the land to be considered a building lot, there is a minimum amount of frontage required. There are also what’s known as sideline setbacks where a permanent structure cannot be built.
So, if you want to build a garage addition on your property, you must meet the sideline property line distance requirement. Zoning laws also have land square footage requirements. For example, you might need an acre of land in order to build a home if that is what local zoning requires.
Likewise, if you value your privacy, you may not want your neighbor building right up to the property line. Zoning laws are put in place for a reason, and this is one of them.
Understanding where the property boundary is located helps you as a homeowner avoid disputes or issues that can lead to living in your home not being as pleasant as possible.
It will make sure that you don’t encroach on your neighbor’s property by mistake or compromise their privacy. Another potential issue from not understanding where the property lines are could be the title company refusing insurance.
How Property Lines Are Marked
When the developer of a piece of land constructs homes, they will typically have the property lines marked. How property lines are marked can vary. The demarkation is usually done in one of a few different ways, including:
- Wooden stakes
- Concrete markers
- Metal markers
Over time these markers tend to disappear, which can cause homeowners to wonder where the property lines are located.
As a homeowner, you can have your property lines marked if this becomes important to you. We will be getting into this momentarily.
How to Find Property Lines for Your Home
Fortunately, there are a few ways to learn where the property line is for your home. Some of these will be very easy and cost you nothing, but that isn’t always the case.
Property lines are public record, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to locate unless you’re a land engineer.
Let’s take a look at the common methods of finding your property lines.
Finding Property Line Markers
If your home is fairly new, the property boundary markers might still be present. There could still be stakes in the ground when the lots were originally divided before your home was constructed.
If you walk along where you believe your property lines to be, you could still find these stakes either slightly above or flush with the ground.
You could also find concrete boundary markers that tend to be more accurate, as stakes are more easily moved.
The use of metal survey pins is also possible as well.
Checking the Property Line Map
There could be a property line map that will show the boundaries of your lot, as well as other details like elevation, structures, and any water features.
These are sometimes referred to as a plat and will often be included with your property’s documentation. It can also be found through your local assessor’s office and might also be available online.
If you can’t get hold of the plat for your property, you might be able to find them for neighboring homes.
Checking the Property Deeds
The deed to the property should give you another way to find your home’s boundary. It should contain a legal description of your boundary line, though the older your home is, the less likely that this will be helpful.
Since the features referred to in the deed may have changed or been removed, it might not help you to define your property lines, however.
Have Your Boundaries Surveyed
The most accurate way to find your home’s property lines is to get a land survey done by a professional land surveyor.
If checking the previous options hasn’t lead to you learning enough or anything about your property lines, a survey might be your best option. However, this certainly won’t be the cheapest option, with average costs for a property line survey being around $500 for a quarter of an acre lot.
Choosing this option will mean hiring a local professional surveyor to measure where your land begins and ends accurately.
The surveyor will also so do some research checking the records to understand the history of the lot. They will find out about subdivisions, easements, and any other important factors relating to your land.
New surveys are normally carried out when a mortgage lender is involved in purchasing a property, so you might be able to find and details of this in your property’s documentation. These are what’s referred to as a mortgage plot plan.
When real estate agents market homes, they will typically ask the seller for the mortgage plot plan to give buyers an understanding of property line locations.
Finding Your Property Lines Online
If you check the county or assessor’s website, you might find that they provide you with local maps. Failing that, you could also try searching for geographical information system maps.
These GIS maps can be searched for using Google, and you might also find other types of maps that give you a good idea of where your boundaries lie if you do some research.
Looking at maps online may give you a general idea of where your property lines are located, by they should not be used to pinpoint an exact location.
APPS For Property Line Locations
Every now and then, a techy will ask me if there is an app to find property lines. Believe it or not, there are apps for finding your property lines!
Besides Google Maps, other GPS apps will provide property line info. The apps, however, are not going to give you anywhere near the accuracy that a property surveyor would. These apps should only be used for ballpark estimates of your boundary locations.
- Landgrid App – the Landgrid app allows you to view properties throughout the US. It is has a survey function that will provide you the ability to create your own survey. Some surveys can be accessed with a paid subscription.
- LandGlide app – the LanGlide app provides GPS technology to locate your property. It has parcel records for about 95 percent of the US.
- Property Survey GPS – like the other property line apps, The Property Survey GPS apps allows its users to locate property lines. The app explores your property, helping to provide estimated land markers.
Never Rely on a Real Estate Agent For Property Lines
One of the golden rules in real estate is not to answer them when someone asks an agent where the property line is located. Unless, of course, you don’t mind getting sued.
A real estate agent has no idea where a property line is located unless they have done the engineering on the property themselves (fat chance). A real estate agent would be relying on a third party telling them where the property line is located. Who knows if that party is wrong?
As a buyer, you should never accept a real estate agent’s answer of where the property line is located to be accurate. If you are a real estate agent reading this, then smarten up! Never show someone where a property line is located.
Are Your Neighbors Allowed to Build Fences on the Property Line?
If you have a neighbor who plans on constructing a fence on the dividing line between your two properties, you need to understand the rules.
There could be specific local regulations or laws that guide how a fence should be constructed concerning the property boundary.
They could also be some restrictions about building on the property line in the deeds of your home or that of your neighbor’s.
Common rules might suggest that any fence is built more than a few inches away from a neighbor’s property boundary, but restrictions could require a greater distance.
If a fence is built directly on the property line, it could mean that the responsibility for it will be between both homeowners. This can lead to many problems when maintenance needs to be performed on the fence or replacement is required.
What Happens With Encroachment of Property Lines?
When buying and selling homes, there are times when the encroachment of lot lines is discovered. What this means is the neighbor has built a structure that violates local zoning laws. One of the more common examples is when a neighbor builds a fence onto the neighbor’s property.
There are a few things to consider when you discover an encroachment. If a neighbor has built something onto your lot and something terrible such as an injury happens in that structure, you could be partially liable and have a claim against your home insurance. Even if there was never a claim, you might end up paying higher insurance premiums.
It is also vital to think about the property’s resale value when it comes time to sell. You may be fine with the situation now, but what if future buyers don’t feel the same way? Typically, in situations like this, it will cause title insurance to be more expensive.
What Can You Do About Property Line Disputes With Neighbors?
A property line problem with a neighbor is not that unusual. They happen all the time. Property line issues can happen in several different ways. Sometimes incorrect assumptions are made about where a lot line exists. Other times a deed description might not be accurate.
There are also cases where one neighbor has been using a portion of land for a long time and claims ownership by adverse possession. How to resolve property disputes boils down to the situation.
The vast majority of the time, it is better to try to work out the dispute amicably with your neighbor. Legal battles over minor lot property line issues can become very costly. The easiest way to settle is to prove to your neighbor by a professional survey that their assumptions about the property line location are incorrect.
If this doesn’t work and the neighbor won’t cooperate, your last resort may include offering to divide the property at issue or request some form of monetary compensation.
Going to court over a minor lot line issue could cost far more money than the amount of land it is worth.
Can Property Lines Be Moved?
In some circumstances, property lines can be moved, and in others, they can’t. In order for a property line to be moved, you will need to confirm according to local zoning laws.
For example, you could not change a lot line that would make your land fall below the required square footage requirement or remove the minimum amount of square footage for a legal lot.
If you remain conforming to zoning laws, a property line change is possible.
Why Would You Change a Property Line?
There could be any number of reasons why you would agree to a property line change. There could be an opportunity to create an additional lot by moving the boundary line. Your neighbor may need a certain amount of land to do an addition. You might want to have more privacy. There could be an encroachment by the neighbor that is stopping the sale of a home.
Typically, when property lines are changed for the benefit of one party, there is some form of monetary compensation.
Why is it Important to Know Your Property Lines
As you can see, property lines become far more important when buying or selling a home. To make proper improvements, such as adding a fence, a garage, pool, or other structure, you need to know exactly where the property lines are.
Other improvements such as the installation of a septic system also need to be a certain distance from the property line.
It is easy to see why lenders require having a mortgage plot plan done when financing a home.
Final Thoughts on Property Lines
When you are looking to find out how to find property lines, there might be more options than you initially imagined. You might be able to avoid getting an expensive property line survey when you need to define your home’s boundaries clearly.
Even if you think you fully understand where your property lines are, checking the official documentation might surprise you.
For this reason, you need to make sure you are very clear on where the boundaries lie before you have a fence constructed or do anything that could potentially encroach on your neighbor’s property. This will save you from expensive legal costs if you get it wrong, and you could find out these details through a simple online search.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed this guide on how to find your property lines and can put it to good use.
About the author: The above Real Estate information on what to know about property lines was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 34+ years.
Are you thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!
I service Real Estate Sales in the following Metrowest MA towns: Ashland, Bellingham, Douglas, Framingham, Franklin, Grafton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hopedale, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millbury, Millville, Natick, Northborough, Northbridge, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Sutton, Wayland, Westborough, Whitinsville, Worcester, Upton, and Uxbridge MA.