You own a home. You have a yard. You might even have a fence. But although that fence, that hedge, or the edge of that lawn might look like the edges of your property, those visual boundaries often aren’t your real property lines by law. And ultimately, that can present lots of problems.
Truly understanding your property lines can be tricky business. But it’s important, especially if you’re looking at putting up a fence, doing some landscaping, selling your home, or even putting in outdoor security cameras.
Even though it seems like knowing where your property ends and where it begins is a no-brainer, it can get complicated. Hiring a surveyor to come to your property could set you back a few thousand dollars. But the good news is, there are other ways to find out, once and for all, what you truly own when you own land.
How to Find Your Property Lines
Check your deed
There are several options available that don’t involve hiring a surveyor. The simplest and most straightforward is to refer to your home purchase records. There should be a copy of the home location survey that clearly delineates the location of your home and any other structures in relation to the property lines.
Consult country records
You can also consult county records. Chances are, there is already an official survey on record that shows exactly where your property lines begin and end. You can usually get these records by going to the county office, or checking out your county’s website. Look for information related to property, land, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Confer with your neighbors
Another option is to talk to your neighbors to see what documentation and understanding they have about the property lines between you. It’s also possible for you and your neighbors to agree on where the property lines are, and make that agreement official. This is called a lot line agreement, and it allows your neighborly alliance to become binding once you’ve both made and signed deeds that provide a detailed description of the property line you’ve agreed upon.
Be aware, however, that there may be zoning and other restrictions in place that can get in the way of creating a lot line agreement. If either you or your neighbor is still paying off a mortgage on the property, the bank may not allow such an agreement without a professional survey. If you don’t have any objections from the bank and are in compliance with all zoning laws, then all you’ll need to do is file your lot line agreement with the county and the new boundaries will become official.
Know It Or Lose It
Beyond understanding where you’re allowed to build or fence, knowing where your property lines is can also have insurance and liability implications. You want to make sure neither you nor your neighbors are encroaching on one another’s property. Believe it or not, there are some substantial risks involved with not knowing your property lines well:
It makes it hard to sell your home
If your neighbor built a fence or driveway that crossed over your property lines, even if it’s only a few inches, it could cause problems that would prohibit a title company from issuing insurance if you decided to sell. And, speaking of selling, whenever you buy or sell a home, you need to clearly understand where your property begins and the neighbor’s ends. This will impact the size of your lot, which can affect selling price as well as insurance considerations.
It can make you vulnerable to lawsuits
Blurry property lines can also cause confusion if there is a personal injury claim by someone visiting either you or your neighbor. To make sure all your ducks are in a row when it comes to protecting your property, visitors, and bank balance, it’s best to get an official report that clearly defines your property lines.
It can erode your property bit by bit
If your neighbor built a fence or structure that encroached on your property, and you didn’t notice, then after a certain period of time that neighbor would have the legal right to call that property their own under adverse possession laws. Many people only find out about contested property boundaries when it’s time to sell their house, and have to go to court to settle the dispute. Imagine the unpleasant surprise of finding that you have a lot fewer square feet to sell than you thought, just because you assumed your neighbor’s fence was put down in the right spot. When it comes to your property, it’s know it or lose it.
Demystifying your property lines isn’t as difficult (or expensive) as you may fear. By utilizing available resources and records, and communicating with your neighbors, you should be able to find out the official word on your property lines without too much pain and suffering.
And it’s absolutely worth it when you’re ready to put up that new fence, add on to your home, or increase outdoor security with surveillance cameras. After all, you want to make sure the property that you’re improving and protecting is actually yours.
Top Image Credit: Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC