How to locate your property boundaries.
Did you ever ask a land surveyor how much he would charge to map your property, then wake-up a few minutes later with smelling salts under your nose? Every three minutes, someone in America passes out from a survey quote . . . or was that tequila?
Regardless, I can show you how to beat the high cost of people shuffling around your property, looking for boundary markers that a real estate agent may have alluded to, just before you were sold on a beautifully landscaped area above the septic tank.
A small postage stamp lot in the city can run you about eight-hundred dollars, and it can cost thousands for a few wooded acres, which is a lot of money if you don’t need a stamped plan for legal reasons, and only want to know where property markers are located.
You’re basically paying a couple of guys to do a little research and mosey around your property, just to confirm information they found in the record books, and that information is (drum roll, please) assessable to the general public.
Property boundaries date back to the Garden of Eden, which employed an invisible fence system and talking serpents named Satan, who now have a surveyor’s license.
I can’t count the number of times property owners were suddenly pulling hair out and calling lawyers because they thought boundary lines were way over yonder.
You could not even fathom the horrific legal problems caused by midnight builders and shady developers, because they were given bad information (sometimes by a guy named Eddy behind the dumpster).
With the help of Steven King, in your wildest dreams after an all night binge in Rio, while dressed as a renegade circus clown, you could not conjure up the scenes played out, and repercussions of bad property information.
Survey! So here now, in a simplistic form (meant to help you giggle and forget that you will soon be eaten alive by mosquitoes and creepy parasites while bush whacking for property corners), is a simple guide to knowing your boundaries, like that time at the senior prom, when you found out how many protective parents love to collect and trade interesting shotguns:
RULE #1) IN DEED!
As “in the deed”! Almost everything you need to know about land survey is located in your property deed, which will not only describe the exact measurements of your property lines, but often reference a map, which automatically makes you just like an adventurer seeking pirates’ hidden treasure! Without the pirates or treasure!
You should’ve received a copy of the deed when you first bought the property, but if you’re just like me (sorry), it’s buried in the attic, den, or near that little pit in the cellar where it “puts the lotion on its skin”. Ha-ha! Boy that Silence of the Lambs was such a fun learning tool!
So if you can’t find the deed, or it’s been ravaged by mold, mice, and spotted liver flukes, it’s time to visit the ‘ol Town or City Hall, and visit an office supported completely by your tax dollars, where people will eagerly rush to assist you with cries of gratitude for your annual contribution to their pockets. The Tax Assessor’s Office!
Their enthusiasm will be contagious, just like a Broadway musical, and soon the whole darn town will be singing and dancing!
But seriously, don’t make any loud noises if they’re sleeping or involved in something much more pressing, like the water cooler. They’ll get to you some day, just about when hell has the Stanley Cup.
Just kidding, my very good friends down at Town Hall (who would ignore me forever and assess our house at ten million, if I didn’t specify that this was a joke).
Rule #2) You’re looking for a deed reference, and this is usually located at the Tax Assessor’s office, where you can find your property by name, address, or telephone number.
This will also give you the volume number of a deed book, and also the page number, where your deed begins. The deeds are kept in a vault room at the Clerk’s Office, where you are welcome to copy anything pertaining to your property, or anyone else’s for that matter.
This is how we do it in Connecticut, but it varies from state to state, so you may have to do a little phone work to learn where this information is hiding.
Massachusetts uses Town and City Halls, but also a Registry, which covers various counties. These are massive buildings full of records and odd people who talk to themselves, so it’s best to give the local government building a quick ring, and see if they have your deed in the vault, or under a coffee cup.
Don’t even get me started on New York, which sometimes involves greasing a few palms for things like an “information charge”. Don’t get me started, yous!
And as a side note, when you’re done, don’t forget to make sure everything adds up with the amount stated for your property taxes. Because once you know for sure just how big or small your property is, then you can start looking at how to reduce property taxes.
Rule #3) The main objective here is; get the deed. Call around to the Town or City Hall, Registry, or Grand Poo-bah. I remember going into a small Town Hall up in Maine, where the elderly clerk shuffled into a pantry closet and came out with the deed book. So there you go.
Once you find the deed, you’re going to be dealing with some pretty funky descriptions, like, “Thenceforth 312.8 feet to a steel rod, turning 92 – 00 – 00 degrees in a westerly direction, and proceeding 210.3 feet to a twenty-eight inch oak . . .”
Fun old stuff like that, which is describing exactly where your property markers are. I found a deed signed by a famous Indian Chief once, who drew a feather to represent his name. This is where the treasure hunt comes in, and you want to look for map references, which are usually within quotations, and will refer to the map as a plan, plat, drawing, rendering, sketch, or nowadays twittering (kidding).
List all the maps as you run volumes back, and if you reach the end or a major gap, you can jump into the Grantor (seller) Grantee (buyer) volumes, which display the history of your property’s owners, dating back to the very dawn of time, or a few years ago, whichever comes first.
These books will also reference volumes and deeds, maps and other asides that are useful. After purging deed books and granting books, you want to locate the map index or files, and look up your property map(s).
Now you’re really smoking baby; a detective with a mission, and don’t leave any stone unturned. If you think you’ve exhausted the books, just ask the clerk or anyone else around if there may be more information on your property, because you never know; so and so’s second cousin removed may know a surveyor in town who didn’t file a map, and you want to check that out.
If you have enough time, you may also want to pull your neighbor’s deeds to see if any maps are referenced, or if there is anything of interest that could help. Two of our neighbors are on property that belonged to our original parcel, so their deeds may contain useful information pertaining to ”cuts” made when this parcel was divided.
Again — like any good detective — you want to pursue any leads or missing details, no matter how obscure.
Now take all the info, go home, and start hunting for bounds indicated in the deed and/or map.
This is where surveyors have a slight edge, with electronic measuring devices, prism poles, singing metal detectors, and color-coordinated LL Bean outfits.
Rule #5) The important thing is to look for a physical reference from the deed that you can identify, such as a road or tree, and take years of change into consideration. If the deed describes a 22-inch diameter oak in 1978, then it will be much bigger with deeper creases, just like me!
Roads can always be a lot bigger or even smaller than the deed implies, and “edge of road” could come several feet onto a property. You may even run into an infamous “paper road”, which may have existed years ago, but is now just a wide path, or was planned and never executed.
Angles and distances are key back at the ol’ ranch, and it’s good to practice pacing a three-foot distance, which is usually a long goose-step. This is much easier and faster than using a tape measure, especially on expansive parcels.
A metal detector is helpful, but a lot of pipes are visible above ground, and if you know the general area, nothing is too far down for a good spade. A fence of any kind is often following a boundary line, and sometimes if you just stand back, breathe deep, and look at the area where yards abut each other, you can get a feel for where things should be located.
One or two-inch pipes are common, but gun barrels and re-bar are also popular, so expect anything, and happy hunting. It’s a good idea to bring some bright flagging, to help you look back and gain some angle perspective for the next corner, or even make a loose line in the woods, to keep a line.
Rule #6) Don’t trust your results to be gospel. Sometimes there’s a hidden right-of-way, or some other adjustment that wasn’t submitted to public records, but still legally holds. This doesn’t happen too often — but it happens — so be careful, and always remember:
Rule #7) If someone disputes your results, let them go get a quote from a survey outfit; it may just work in your favor.
Follow these “lucky seven” rules, and you should have very few problems locating property boundaries, unless you live in a motor home, where boundaries are basically controlled by traffic laws, vehicle health, ferry schedules, and backseat drivers.
Okay then! Good luck, and happy hunting!