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Property Lines: How to Find Them and Why They Matter

Property Lines: How to Find Them and Why They Matter

When you need to accurately find property lines, you’ll have to go further than checking Google Maps or a local government website.

To build a fence, add an addition to your home, or confirm that you and your neighbors aren’t encroaching on each other’s property, you need to know exactly where your property begins and ends. 

An inaccurate understanding of property lines is behind many legal disputes and lawsuits between neighbors. Use our guide to find property lines that can stop a not-so-neighborly dispute in its tracks.

Why It’s Important to Find Property Lines

Plastic set square and magnifying glass over an imaginary cadastral map of territory with buildings, fields and roads - 3D render concept image with copy space to symbolize property lines

Francesco Scatena/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for ways to accurately find property lines, there’s a good chance you’re already facing a potential issue. Common issues with property lines include:

  • A dispute with a neighbor on a property line location
  • The construction of a new addition, boundary line, or driveway
  • Lack of maintenance of a joint driveway
  • Issues with an easement
  • Problems caused by trees on a neighboring property
  • Lender or insurance-required survey for a new home purchase

Perhaps you’re just curious to know your exact property line location so you can be mindful of it for any future projects or land use. In any case, it’s always a good idea to know where your property legally begins and ends.

Property lines shouldn’t be estimated or assumed. It’s easy enough to look at existing structures, like fences or landscaping beds, and assume that those outline the edges of your property. 

However, that’s not a reliable way to find property lines. Many structures are built without proper knowledge of property lines.

You or your neighbor may have built a fence, an addition, a driveway, or a swimming pool that encroaches another property years ago. 

How to Precisely Find Property Lines

The only way to know for sure is to find the exact location of your property line. This will clear up any dispute or concern.

As long as you find this information before beginning a project that could potentially invade a neighbor’s property, you can avoid costly lawsuits and orders to remove structures you’ve paid for. 

Here are a few different ways to precisely find property lines.

1. Consult Your Deed

A scale house on some forms for a deed to conceptualize on the financial investment.

Matt Benoit/Shutterstock

When your neighborhood or subdivision was developed, all the property lines within it were established. Your deed contains a legal description of your property that can be used to help you find property lines.

How easy or hard it is to follow the description to find exact property lines depends on how the legal description was written.

Some legal property descriptions are written simply, just detailing the lot’s exact location to other lots or structures. Others are more detailed, containing exact measurements of the property lines that can be followed from a reference point.

If yours contains exact measurements, you can use them to walk your property and determine the boundary lines. 

As you follow the measurements from the reference point in the legal description, you should come across property line markers, or survey pins, that are either visible or buried at the corners of where your property ends.

Visible markers are certainly easier to locate, but even buried markers can be found with a metal detector’s help.

Important Note

Please note: Call 811 a few days before you dig for markers to make sure you won’t be digging into buried wires, utility lines, or irrigation systems. Someone from a local utility company will come to your property to mark where any county wires or pipes are located. 

Survey pins are markers usually made of steel or iron rebar. You’ll find them buried about a foot below the surface.

With a metal detector, you can follow the legal description measurements as written and check for the presence of metal at the corners where you’d expect the markers to be. 

With the location of all utilities and buried wires marked, you can safely dig at the property line corners where your metal detector indicates to be sure a marker is there.

Use a stake or flag to mark each one as you go. This method is great for satisfying curiosity or comparing property line notes from a deed with your neighbor.

If there is a legal dispute or you need precise property lines for your lender, title insurer, or a building permit, you’ll need to hire a surveyor. We’ll cover this in more detail below. 

2. Check the Plat Map

Imaginary cadastral map of an area with buildings and streets to help someone find property lines

Rainer Lesniewski/Shutterstock

Another way to find property lines is by checking the plat map. A plat map shows the way a particular tract of land is divided into individual lots. 

These maps are drawn to scale and show:

  • Land size 
  • All boundary/property line locations
  • Dimensions of each lot
  • Flood zones
  • Nearby streets and roads
  • Easements and rights of way
  • Parcel numbers for lots

You can get a copy of your lot’s plat map for a small fee. Check with your local assessor or zoning office (in person or online) to get a copy.

With the plat map, you can follow the lot dimensions from the reference point listed to try and locate the property line markers that are visible or buried.

A metal detector can help you find any buried property line markers (survey pins) as they are usually made of steel or iron. They will be buried about a foot deep.

Please note: A few days before you plan to dig, you must call 811 to have a local utility company come and mark the location of any utility lines, wires, or irrigation systems that may be buried. 

Using the dimensions and boundary line locations from the plat map, you can find the property line markers along the edges and corners of your property. Mark each one as you go to get a complete picture of the boundary of your property.

It’s important to realize that plat maps, like a deed’s legal property description, are excellent tools to satisfy curiosity but will not be enough to settle a property dispute or meet a lender’s survey requirements.

Plat maps often indicate that the dimensions included are approximate. Additionally, changes and improvements can be made after the plat map was drawn. 

For these reasons, you’ll need to hire a surveyor to come and get the exact dimensions and locations of your property lines. We’ll cover this next. 

3. Have Your Property Surveyed

To help find property lines, survey instrument set on a tripod in the field

ThavornC/Shutterstock

Hiring a surveyor to find property lines and dimensions is the most precise and reliable way. A surveyor will make accurate measurements to determine exactly where a plot legally begins and ends.

While finding property lines on your own may satisfy you, only a surveyor’s measurements will be accepted in a legal property dispute or request for a survey from a lender or title insurer. 

A surveyor will use the property’s legal description from the deed and the plat map to determine your lot’s legal boundaries.

If any past survey pins have inadvertently been moved out of place (by tree removal, utility workers, etc.), they will replace them with new ones. 

Make sure you are home the day a surveyor comes out. Ask them to leave flags or stakes that show your property line’s corners for an easy temporary indicator.

If you’ve hired them to complete a mortgage survey for your lender, they will give the lender a copy of the survey. If you’ve hired them to do a boundary survey, you will receive a copy of the survey.

How This Helps

The surveyor’s findings should settle any neighbor dispute over property lines. Still, if any kind of encroachment continues, you can hire an attorney and have a judge issue an order that temporarily stops your neighbor from building there.

From there, you can file a trespass lawsuit. Hiring a surveyor is the most precise way to find property lines. It costs anywhere from $250 to $700 to hire a surveyor.

The total cost depends on the terrain and size of your property. Acres of difficult terrain costs much more to survey than a small, flat lot. Expect to pay about $500 to hire a surveyor. 

While hiring a surveyor may seem expensive, it’s nothing compared to the cost of not knowing your actual property lines.

If you build something – like a swimming pool, garage, fence, or driveway – that encroaches on a neighbor’s property, your neighbor could bring a lawsuit against you that forces you to pay to have it removed. 

In fact, consider this scary scenario: a judge ordering you to remove the encroachment and cover the cost of doing so. That would suck, wouldn’t it?

Imagine paying for a new in-ground swimming pool (~$35,000), then having to pay to have it filled in (~$5,000) or extracted (~$9,000 to $19,000) simply because you didn’t want to hire a surveyor first. 

The Best Way to Find Property Lines

Land surveyors using camera on construction site

Goldenjack/Shutterstock

There is no doubt that the best, most accurate way to find property lines is by hiring a surveyor. Yes, it’s a cost you’d rather not pay. However, it could save you thousands (or more) later on.

Whether you’re buying a new home, considering building a new structure, uncertain if a neighbor’s fence or tree is on your property, or just curious about where your property line is, only a surveyor can provide an official report. 

  • Hiring a surveyor stops property line disputes with neighbors from becoming a legal matter and help you keep things cordial. 
  • It reassures you that the new garage or fence you’re thinking of building will be on your own property. 
  • It prevents you from paying for a new structure that will eventually be ruled as being on a neighbor’s property, requiring you to pay to have it removed.
  • It helps you guard your property against being used and eventually acquired by neighbors through an adverse possession law
  • It might even reveal that your lot extends further than you thought.

Consulting your deed and checking a plat map are good options if you just want to know the approximate dimensions of your lot and locations of boundary lines. But if your lender or title insurer requests a survey, hiring a surveyor is the only way to do it. 

If you or your neighbor are nearing (or are already in) a dispute over property lines, only an official survey report can prove your case in court. A surveyor’s updated report is the best and most accurate way to find property lines.

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