Is my fence my property line?

Have you ever bought or sold a house and wondered why you would need a land survey? “How complicated could it be? It’s a square lot with a fence on the property line. I don’t need a surveyor.

Believe it or not, your property line doesn’t start or end with a fence.

Most people mistake their fence as their official property line. While it seems like fences would be the best way to indicate property lines, they aren’t always accurate. Landowners and surveyors alike are fallible and capable of error in staking new fence lines and property corners. So many things can go awry when you rely on a fence to find your property line.

Here’s what constitutes a property line and how you can find yours in a pinch.

What forms a property line?
Property lines are the abstract lines that separate pieces of land owned by different entities. They’re not always easy to spot or laid out neatly in square rows.

Surveyors identify property lines using a combination of factors.

First, the surveyor will read the property description in the deed. Sometimes an exhibit, or sketch, will accompany the deed description. This gives insight into the surveyor’s intent in describing the property. Surveyors will also look at monuments mentioned in the deed. These are often set iron rods or concrete markers but are often fence corners, fences, trees or stone mounds depending on the age and location of the survey.

Next, surveyors use items like fences, structures and even piles of rocks to find property corners. These are called “monuments” and are like clues on a treasure map for the surveyor to determine the property line.

Last, the surveyor identifies the property corners, which are usually iron rods driven into the ground.

Using a combination of these factors, the surveyor can identify the property lines with accuracy.

How to find your property line
Although the best course of action is to hire a professional surveyor, there are a few ways you can approximate your own property line. Remember to consult with your lawyer or a professional surveyor on your individual situation.

Read the deed
Your property deed contains the description of your property; sometimes this is labeled as the ‘legal description’ or ‘field notes’. The description will outline the property, referencing important monuments, distance and direction.

Local assessor’s office
Check your city or county clerk’s office to find a plat, or map, for your property. The deed’s description is just that—a description. The plat takes information from the deed and translates it into a map. A plat will be much easier for a layman to decipher than a long, drawn-out deed description.

Locate corners
If you can get your hands on a metal detector, you can have a go at finding your property corners. Surveying crews mark the corners of properties with iron rods, which they drive into the ground.

Keep in mind that a metal detector can also pick up other metal objects such as wires and nails. Surveyors use a specialized magnetic locator to find iron rods. But if you’re in a pinch, a metal detector can put you in the vicinity of your property corner.

Previous survey
Sometimes the best way to learn is to see what’s been done before. Check out the most recent survey of your property to find the property line. This works best when you have a more recent survey, since monuments can change over time.

Work with a surveyor
At the end of the day, your best option is to hire a professional surveyor to find your property line. He or she will use their years of experience, crew and professional equipment to accurately locate property lines.

When it comes to surveying, leave it to the pros!

The bottom line
Fences aren’t always the most accurate way to determine a property line, but you can use a few of these DIY methods to roughly locate your property line. When it’s all said and done, you’re best off hiring a professional surveyor to identify the property line.