Finding your property line not so easy

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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
What’s the best way to determine the property line between us and our neighbors? The neighbors think that the trees on the side of our house are theirs and have trimmed them back almost to the nub!
— Shirley

Dear Shirley,
The volume of letters I get on this subject is amazing. Obviously, this is an issue affecting homeowners in every part of the country.

Most cities will typically not send someone out to determine property lines — at least not for free. So you will probably have to hire a land surveyor to “stake out the place.” This generally costs around a couple hundred dollars in the city, but can reach a couple of thousand on a large rural property.

The surveyor will first research the deed or deeds that define both your property and your neighbors’ property (or properties, should you have adjacent neighbors on more than one side). He or she will then attempt to locate the pipe-like property-marking “pins” that are 18 inches tall and imbedded just below the surface. Some have plastic caps that identify the previous surveyor. Plats that are available in your local land-record department may show the location of these markers. Your surveyor will then set out new property markers.

In the case of properties that were platted long ago, a true property line is a little harder to pinpoint because lot lines were often defined decades ago by landmark descriptions such as “from the large pine tree to the white picket fence.” These obsolete marking points were likely felled decades ago. In such cases, the only way to establish a clear property line is usually by a written agreement with your neighbors, who will likely want to claim those trees that they keep buzz-cutting unless they are unquestionably on your land.

If you don’t act to establish ownership of the tree-lined area and your neighbors continue to maintain it for years, they may eventually have a case for adverse possession, or squatter’s rights. Here’s my previous column on adverse possession, and legally assume control of that land.

Good luck in surveying the situation.

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