How to Find Property Lines

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Learn where your property begins and ends. Photo by @jacobandrews64 via Twenty20
Property lines delineate the borders of your property and the land you are entitled to under law. While most homeowners feel they have a reasonable understanding where their property begins and ends, property law tends to deal in the exact figures of a property’s boundary lines. “General estimates” and the like are an invitation for land disputes between neighbors. Sure, certain property lines are clearly denoted by default by fences, but other borders may be less apparent.
Finding your property lines involves using maps and documentation as a reference, and then planting markers in the real world corresponding space to denote the physical borders. We’ll explore when and why you may need to find out your property limits in such accurate terms, how to get your property lines through the assessor’s office with a property deed, and the more common surveyor approach to finding the lines.

Part 1: When and Why Will You Need to Know Your Property Lines?

To put it simply, you’ll need to have an exact understanding of your property limits in order to safely and legally install things on the ground. Having the property limits surveyed professionally is even a requirement in the case of constructing new segments of one’s home.
Each property plot was outlined by the original survey team who prepared the plot; a professional surveyor’s job is simply to take the recorded information housed by the municipal government’s assessor office and correspond it to the real-world physical space with posts and markings.
Most of the time, knowing your property limits is just a smart way to protect yourself from any potential confusion or trouble with neighbors. Issues as petty as a garden or building a fence half a foot too far in one direction can have legally damning consequences for someone if they haven’t verified that their efforts are within the legal limits of their property.
By covering your back and scoping the true perimeter of your property, you’ll be able to move forward with the assurance that you’re legally protected, eliminating the risk of any related grievances in the future.
Of course, if you’re already in the midst of a dispute with your neighbor about property lines, there’s no better way to prove them wrong than by having the legal proof to back your claim.

Part 2: How to Find Your Property Lines via the Assessor’s Office

Step 1: Link up online with your municipality’s assessor’s office. Every municipality should have an office that deals in property rights and land ownership.
Although you’ll probably need to go visit them in person to get full access to the relevant materials, some assessor offices will feature mapping tools available for use via their official website.
Step 2: Review your property deed. A property deed contains information of ownership regarding a given property. As the property owner, you should have been given this documentation when the house was transferred to your name.
The information should be offered in clearcut terms with regards to the distance between property stakes and the perimeter area. The starting location of these measurements is usually denoted in the deed by a description, relating the property plot to some external landmark nearby. Be warned, however, that a landmark used in the description may no longer be valid.
Landmarks such as trees and sidewalks are often used as the zero point for graphing out the area, and may have been removed or modified since the deed was written.
Step 3: Ask for relevant property maps. Your municipality should have a physical assessor or county recorder’s office you can visit for relevant maps pertaining to your property and its surroundings. This is especially helpful if the reference points outlined in your property deed turned out to be out of date.
Ask the office reception for access to maps for your street or neighborhood. Maps that express defined measurements on and around your property are obviously going to be the most helpful. The assessor’s office will hopefully have mapping data that is more up to date than the property deed.
Step 4: Measure out, and plant stakes according to the maps and/or property deed. Finally, it is always recommended that you retest the measurements between your property stakes against the dimensions outlined in the deed itself.
Even if you’re reasonably certain the stakes were placed accurately, it doesn’t hurt to verify it with a tape measure. In the case that your project inadvertently spills over into someone else’s territory, you’ll have no legal protection against their whims. Land disputes are seldom pretty - especially when you’re on the losing end.

Part 3: How to Find the Lines via a Property Survey

Step 1: Review your property survey. Along with the property deed, you should also have documentation relating to the property survey at your disposal as a homeowner.
Again, this should offer a delineation of the property lines, using an external source like the sidewalk as a starting reference point. If you are on good terms with your neighbors, you should also ask into looking at the surveys of neighboring properties as well; adjacent properties can be just as helpful in delineating the borders of your property if you shared any property lines with them.
Step 3: Use a metal detector to sweep for the property stakes. If you don’t want to go through the expense of hiring a surveyor, you may be able to find the original property stakes in the ground yourself by scanning with a metal detector.
If you’re interested enough to purchase one or have one at hand already, you can tread around the de facto perimeter of your property with the detector. If your property was outfitted with underground metal property stakes when it was first outlined, you should be able to scan one at each corner of your property.
However, it’s also worthwhile to note the possibility that the property stakes could have been shifted. Anything from an earthquake to landscaping done by previous owners can affect the placement of the property stakes in the ground. Because of this, it’s a good idea to cross-reference this with the recorded property measurements.
If there’s a disparity between the recorded distance between stakes and the distance you’re finding yourself, then there’s reasonable doubt that the stakes have been moved out of their original place.
Step 4: Plant stakes upon each of the corners of your property limits. Using a tape measure to map out the limits from the property survey’s point of beginning, plant a state wherever there’s a corner.
If there is any legal documentation at hand concerning the measurements, you should verify your stake positions are correct by measuring it out yourself again once they’re all in place..
Step 5: Hire a professional surveyor to do the job. A surveyor is recommended if you have no survey information available to draw upon.
The cost of hiring a professional to do the job of marking property lines ranges wildly, all depending on the size and scale of the property in question. Generally speaking, a professional survey of a home property can range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars, to well upwards of a thousand.
While this can make the cheaper alternative of a metal detector quite a bit more appealing to the thrifty spender, hiring a surveyor comes with many special benefits, not least of all the fact that it is the only legally binding way of assessing your property. It is a requirement if you plan on constructing an additional part of your house; local building codes will determine how close to the property lines you are permitted to build.