Ask most people where their property begins and ends, and they can give you a specific answer. The road to the west, the alley in the back, the front sidewalk, and the fence between their house and the neighbor's place. It couldn't be simpler, right?
And yet, many homeowners don't really know the exact amount of land they own or where it begins and ends. And not knowing the precise dimensions of your most valuable asset can lead to various problems, ranging from "hilarious misunderstanding" to "complete disaster during home selling."
Homeowners often rely on anecdotal evidence, such as their real estate agent, or the visual markers that border a property (streets, fences) to delineate their property. But even geographic information system information or Google Earth aren't reliable indicators. Indeed, some of what you think is part of your front lawn might be owned by the state or city, depending on how far the legal right of way extends from the street.
The most obvious value of property lines is knowing how far you can and should place improvements along your yard. A 6-foot variance in your borders makes a big difference when putting up a fence.
Sometimes, a homeowners association will require that specific improvements be made to the property line.
The only reliable way to pinpoint your exact property lines is a professional surveyor, who surveys your property according to the exact dimensions recorded by the city or county office responsible for tracking property lines.
How to hire a surveyor
Licensing requirements vary by state. However, all states have a surveyor's licensing board. The profession requires a deep knowledge of law and systems, extensive education and professional experience under a licensed surveyor before granting a license.
The profession also requires a bit of diplomacy -- surveyors are sometimes called upon to explain their findings to angry landowners who discover they own much less than they thought or that their expensive landscaping extends several feet into someone else's yard.
A survey costs about $525, but if you've never had one done, it could prove vital. You should always hire a surveyor when buying a new home. And if you're undertaking landscaping or fence construction, it buys valuable peace of mind to know your boundaries.
Property lines vital to insurance and responsibility
Property lines get even more complicated when you consider elements that start on one property but impact another. Trees make up the majority of these problems. If your oak's limbs extend over your neighbor's yard, whose problem is it when the leaves fall? Or worse still, if a broken limb causes damage to a neighbor's yard?
This is another case where your jurisdiction matters, so make sure you and your insurance company understand the specifics.
In the end, mutual respect for each other makes the most valuable difference. Consider your neighbors when making improvements near your property edge, regardless of where your property line is.
Tweet your home care questions with #AskingAngi and we'll try to answer them in a future column.