A question that is often asked from home buyers are “where is the property line” of a particular home. For many buyers and sellers it is important to find the property lines or boundaries of a property. Of course this is a very valid question.
Nothing beats owning your own parcel of land. And, nothing is more important than those invisible lines separating you from your neighbor. There are legal and financial concerns around ones property lines. On a larger scale wars have been fought over boundary disputes.
As a home buyer/owner you want to know where your property’s boundaries begin and end for several reasons:
Unfortunately the answer is not as simple as home sellers and buyers would like it to be.
I recently had a home under agreement in a Dracut Neighborhood. There had been some recent road work done that redesigned the road and some driveways.
During the home inspection, we asked the neighbor where the side lot line was between the two properties. He showed us where it the side lot line lay. Unfortunately the home my client had under agreement had a piece of the driveway on the neighbors property. The neighbor also had his own survey done to protect his interest and showed us where the offending piece of driveway was located.
As an agent representing a buyer my ears went up. The listing agent was there and assured me the neighbor was wrong. But that is not good enough. I went to the town and pulled the proposed plan done by a surveyor.
Ultimately that was not good enough, we required the seller to have an “as built” land survey done and rectify any boundary issues, if any.
In the end the seller had to move the driveway over about two foot. This prevented my buyer client from having any issues in the future.
So two feet doesn’t sound like a big deal. But it is. The buyer didn’t even want to make an issue of it but sometimes a home buyer doesn’t know what is best for themselves. It took myself and an attorney explaining to buyer why it was a big deal.
If a title insurance company figured it out there was an encroachment, it would make both properties uninsurable in the future. If you or a potential buyer is buying a home most likely it is being financed by a bank. The bank requires title insurance that cover encroachments and clouds on the title that could effect ownership.
The driveway is an encroachment, because it crosses the boundary line and encroaches on the neighbors property. Title insurance companies will typically not lend on properties where either the property is the offending property or two if they are the property being encroached upon. The definition of an encroachment by Investopedia is:
A situation in real estate where a property owner violates the property rights of his neighbor by building something on the neighbor’s land or by allowing something to hang over onto the neighbor’s property. Encroachment can be a problem along property lines when a property owner is not aware of his property boundaries or intentionally chooses to violate his neighbor’s boundaries.
This is also known as structural encroachment.
Now we could of ignored it and hoped the title insurance company for the lender wouldn’t notice. Unfortunately, if my buyer bought the house he may have been stuck rectifying the situation for the tune of about $7000 in the future.
Back to the beginning, “where are the property lines?”
The only surefire way of knowing where your property lines are is to have a copy of a plan certified by a surveyor and know where the survey markers are placed. A surveyed plan will mark all boundaries and lot lines along with all structures, easements and also show any potential problems. I am not going to go into depth on a survey but Joe Manausa goes into a land survey in greater depth in an article discussing whether home buyers should have a survey done before buying a home.
A survey is accurate with in a fraction of an inch and will usually mark all corners for the person ordering the survey. A typical marker today is an orange stake driven into the ground. In the past a marker could have been a rock or stone marker.
Even with a certified land survey, without knowing where the markers are it is difficult to tell where your property boundaries fall with any certainty. If you are buying a house where you know where the markers are… like a new construction, it is a good idea to keep the markers clear and occasionally hit the markers with orange paint.
There are other ways to “roughly find the property lines” And when I say roughly you can get the general shape and dimensions but with out the boundary markers or identifiable features on the survey you can only estimate where the property lines begin and end.
Here in Massachusetts, a seller is under no obligation to provide a survey showing property lines of a home. And in most instances, a rough idea is fine. But there are times when it is important to find the property lines and bounds with a high degree of accuracy. That can only be done with a land survey. Such instances are:
While it is a common question from a home buyer, “where are the property lines?” know that no one can answer that with any decisiveness with out a plot plan done and certified by a surveyor. Not the listing agent, not a buyer’s agent, not the seller, not the neighbor. If they give you a definitive answer ask how they know it. Has there been a recent survey by the seller or any of the neighbors?
If not, do your own research or have your buyer’s agent do it. When it come to buying a home, if the information that has been told to you by a listing agent or seller is important in your decision to buy, verify it!
Almost every seller I ask about property lines, they answer me quite definitively they know exactly where they lie. When questioned further, come to find out they are going off of what the previous seller told them or what the neighbors have told them. Yes, you probably have a rough idea but you cannot say with absolute authority where the property lines fall, nor should you.
Unless you have a plot plan certified by a surveyor with property markers and have walked the boundaries you cannot and should not answer that question. You are just setting yourself up for a potential legal issue.
If asked by a buyer’s agent or potential home buyer, refer them to your agent. An experienced listing agent will know how to answer the question without creating liability to you.
While there are resources to get a rough idea of a properties boundaries, only a certified land survey with boundary markers identified in the ground will ensure absolute accurately. In most cases a rough idea is good enough but don’t take someones word for it without properly verifying the information.
Where Is The Property Line of My Home? was written by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate a Tewksbury MA Real Estate Agent. Kevin has a strong marketing plan that will get your house sold. Want to discuss your upcoming move call Kevin at 978-360-0422.
Real Estate Services in the following areas: Northeast Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Metrowest. Including the following communities and the surrounding area- Amesbury, Andover, Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groveland, Haverhill, Lowell, Melrose, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleton, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Wakefield, Wilmington, Westford
Harvey M. Jacobson, MBA/CEO Keller Williams Realty - Commercial DivisionDecember 31, 2016
I once purchased a 4-lot development to build “custom homes”. In the process I discovered that there was a 2-foot strip that was still owned by the original developer (not my purchase) between my property and the neighbors. Since it was hill-side we both ignored it and let the original owner continue to pay taxes on the property.
Over the years I have witnessed this in many forms and once had an Insurance go to the expense of having to resolve similar issues (one involved payment of “Quimby (public park) fees” to legally separate two apartment buildings I had under contract that was individually deeded (but not legal deeds) to complete the escrow closing.
Massachusetts RealtorJanuary 3, 2017
Thanks for sharing that Harvey. All to often home buyers will take the word of an agent or a seller. But usually neither can tell you exactly where the lot lines are with any certainty.
ZacharyJune 22, 2020
Great job keeping the public informed about the importance of finding the property lines. When you order a property line survey from a land survey company, you will receive an accurate survey that has the exact property lines of your piece of land mapped out. These types of surveys should only be performed by a licensed land surveyor, as they need to be precise and accurate so that there are no property line disputes or problems down the road in the future.
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