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4. How Are Property Lines Calculated?

Title Source is one of the largest providers of title insurance, property valuations and settlement services in the nation.

We know that fences don’t line every land owner’s plot, so how do we define where one yard ends and the neighbor’s begins? It’s not an easy task to calculate property lines, but it can be done if you’re willing to work around the elements.

So how do we really determine property boundaries? It’s a little less than precise, but to help make things more standardized, nearly the entire country has adopted a system called rectangular survey system (RSS). (If you read our recent post on property lines, you know that the metes and bounds system is still used in the Northeast Colonial states. Read more about the metes and bounds system here.)

If you’re thinking RSS as in email, think again. Surveyors use RSS to develop a system of rectangular parcels of land that can be added and measured to create an outline of the property. RSS works by dividing all land parcels into roughly one mile sections. The word roughly is used, because these sections are hardly ever perfect. Roads, creeks, rivers, lakes and tree lines often get in the way of the perfect mile. The lines are then separated into two types, meridians and baselines. Meridians run north and south, baselines run east and west.

The RSS system was first used in Eastern Ohio in an area called the Seven Ranges. The epicenter of the system is on the Ohio and Pennsylvania border near Pittsburgh. This system has since become the standard of how we calculate property lines today.

So what does this mean to the appraiser? While evaluating a property, an appraiser will visit the local municipality to acquire property records. They will look at the parcel ID and legal description to verify the basic description of the property location. If the property is in a subdivision, then it will most likely be measured by RSS and often times property lines can be identified on the associated plat map. (A plat map is the map of a town, section or subdivision indicating the location and boundaries of individual properties.) If the appraiser cannot verify the property boundaries, they will have to request a copy of a survey that would have to be performed by a licensed surveyor.