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Dear Monty column: How to verify lot lines

Richard Montgomery
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The Daily Herald

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

*****

Reader Question: ?We want to know how to verify lot lines. We have found a home we want to buy. When we looked at the house with our agent, we toured the yard, and the agent pointed out the lot lines. Our agent is not the listing agent. The lot corners were described based on the location of flower beds, shrubbery, trees on the lot and the adjacent neighbor's landscaping location. The datasheet stated the lot's depth and width, but the agent did not have a tape measure. Neither the owner of the home nor the listing agent was present. It was the first time our agent had ever seen the house. We are planning on raising our family there, and at some future point in time, we may want to have a fence or possibly a swimming pool. Our agent was very comfortable with her observations, but we wonder, what if she is wrong? We don't want to offend her. How can we verify the lot size?

?Monty's Answer: While your agent may be correct, this is not a situation to worry about offending the agent. Knowing the exact boundaries is one of the basic due-diligence facts to uncover before buying a home. Guesstimates will not count if there is a disagreement in the future. ?

At some point in the past, there was a survey of the property. At that time, the surveyor marked the lot corners with metal stakes. Over time, these corner markers can disappear. Grading the lot, adding soil, removal of the stake by accident or on purpose are examples of why or how this happens.

I recently helped a relative find their stakes with a metal detector. Two of the stakes were almost two feet underground. Were they found in the proper location? The only way to verify the stakes are accurate is to engage a licensed surveyor. A licensed surveyor and the location of the property can affect the cost to locate the stakes. A survey may range in price from $200 to over $1,000. It pays to seek two or three estimates. The question of who should pay for it is often a negotiation between the buyer and the owner.

Your choices:

1. Ask your agent to deliver the survey of the property to you. If they find the original document, this may be a satisfactory solution. With the survey and a tape measure, or a metal detector, one may find the stakes. Common sense and experience now come into play as one uses judgment to decide whether the stakes appear correct. The risk is something or somebody moved the original stakes.

2. If no survey can be located (check the tax listing department in the register of deeds office), the county or the municipality has online GIS systems. Many GIS systems can activate a layer to identify the lot lines.

3. If all else fails, the last and most reliable source of verifying the corner stakes is the registered land surveyor. They will confirm or reestablish the correct location of the boundaries. This process could also be deployed as a condition in a purchase agreement.

Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Find him at DearMonty.com.