Buying land - no metes and bounds description

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goaties
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Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by goaties »

I am investigating a property which once had a house on it. The deed contains simply the worst "legal" description I've ever seen, something along the likes of "approx 3 acres, across from where X was located". Back in the 40s when this descriptor was first written, I suppose that was okay.

They aren't asking much money for it, so am I wondering if any Boglehead has encountered this and has advice for how to proceed. The tax map has drawn the property but, except for the line along the road, the other three boundaries have no length given.. The property which surrounds this property is also missing dimensions, so probably that deed is just as bad.

Property is in northern rural Vermont, if that matters.
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Sandtrap
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Sandtrap »

goaties wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 7:49 am I am investigating a property which once had a house on it. The deed contains simply the worst "legal" description I've ever seen, something along the likes of "approx 3 acres, across from where X was located". Back in the 40s when this descriptor was first written, I suppose that was okay.

They aren't asking much money for it, so am I wondering if any Boglehead has encountered this and has advice for how to proceed. The tax map has drawn the property but, except for the line along the road, the other three boundaries have no length given.. The property which surrounds this property is also missing dimensions, so probably that deed is just as bad.

Property is in northern rural Vermont, if that matters.
Property should be surveyed by the seller prior to sale. Surveyor licensed, etc. Description and new survey filed with the county and title company. Absolute guarantee that everything is in order, no unknown easements, encumbrances, etc.

Without the above, do not buy it.
j :happy
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Silk McCue
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Silk McCue »

If you can't walk the property line you don't know what you are buying or what you might want to sell one day. The legal fees to defend your belief of what you think you own could easily exceed the purchase price if a neighboring owner (now or in the future) disagrees with your interpretation of the property line.

I would check with the folks at the local municipality to get their advice on how to true up the legal description.

Cheers
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N1CKV
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by N1CKV »

The seller really needs to get better verification of what the property actually is.
*As other's have suggested, starting with looking at what is on the books at the clerk of court is best. Sometimes maps are included.
*Look at satellite photos to see how they line up.
*Look for evidence of old fence lines: a distinct row of trees and trees with evidence of barbed wire embedded are often left in place when the properties are otherwise cleared or logged.
*Talk to the surrounding land owner/ owners. Ask if they have a formal survey of their property or see if they would be interested in formally establishing the property lines and offer to split the surveyor's fee for your shared portion.

Without all of the above the property would need to be very cheap to compensate for the effort to accomplish the above, along with the possibility that once the property lines are established you may not have purchased what you thought you purchased.

Without a clear description I am not sure title insurance would do you much good, they would have very little to defend from the description given. Once the property is clearly defined, surveyed and agreed to by the current neighboring land owners with this all on file at the court house, then you could be secure in what you have.
fru-gal
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by fru-gal »

I would not buy this without a survey by a licensed surveyor and title insurance.
Yooper
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Yooper »

Easy. Tell the seller you're interested but want to have it surveyed first. Odds are they probably won't offer to pay for it (although you could ask). Have it surveyed and if it ends up being the size and shape you thought it was, buy it (using the legal description in the survey for your title search). Doesn't matter what the neighbor's think, a survey by a licensed surveyor trumps anyone's claim to the boundaries of said property.
Gardening_at_night
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Gardening_at_night »

Please take this advice from a licensed surveyor. Get it surveyed. The survey should pay for itself by adding value to the property. Surveys tend to add value to a property the more vague that the lines and description are. It will also add marketability to the property in case you need to sell it due to an unexpected circumstance.
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cheese_breath
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by cheese_breath »

Yooper wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 9:25 am... a survey by a licensed surveyor trumps anyone's claim to the boundaries of said property.
What about adverse possession if a neighbor has been using the property for say maybe 12 years or so?
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pork
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by pork »

[/quote]
What about adverse possession if a neighbor has been using the property for say maybe 12 years or so?
[/quote]

Excellent point. Get it surveyed, and walk the property to make sure any neighbors have not been using portions of the property for a long period of time.... If they have, there's a good chance your new property may no longer include those portions of property (state law will determine adverse possession).
Yooper
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Yooper »

cheese_breath wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:45 am
Yooper wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 9:25 am... a survey by a licensed surveyor trumps anyone's claim to the boundaries of said property.
What about adverse possession if a neighbor has been using the property for say maybe 12 years or so?
Then it might get dicey. But adverse possession is harder to prove than many think (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjvOFCU-WII is a pretty good example of this). From the OP's description, the existing boundaries are so hard to determine that they may be non-existent. I'm certainly no expert though, just putting my two cents in.
Sconie
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Sconie »

I'd be prone to tell the seller that you are interested in purchasing it----provided that a licensed survey is completed, towards providing proof that a legal, clear, title can be transferred to you----potentially working out some type of a sharing or other "arrangement" with the seller for the cost of this.

As a thought, you may want to consider engaging a local attorney----one who is experienced in and specializes in local real estate transfers. What do you want to bet that he/she has encountered this type of situation before? (i.e., if the title/legal description for this property is "messed up," it is highly likely that others in the same county are as well.) In turn, that individual can/may be able to provide you with good advice as to how to proceed.
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not4me
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by not4me »

Sconie wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 11:10 am I'd be prone to tell the seller that you are interested in purchasing it----provided that a licensed survey is completed, towards providing proof that a legal, clear, title can be transferred to you----potentially working out some type of a sharing or other "arrangement" with the seller for the cost of this.

As a thought, you may want to consider engaging a local attorney----one who is experienced in and specializes in local real estate transfers. What do you want to bet that he/she has encountered this type of situation before? (i.e., if the title/legal description for this property is "messed up," it is highly likely that others in the same county are as well.) In turn, that individual can/may be able to provide you with good advice as to how to proceed.
This is along the lines of what I was going to say. This isn't that uncommon in certain areas. OP, I noticed you said the legal description was "first" written in the 1940s -- is that the last time it was sold? In rural areas that tend to have low turnover & few "outsiders" buying, this is likely not rare. The current owner likely is close to actual & so there wouldn't be huge surprises. A local lawyer might not charge much & easily earn the $s.

If I was interested otherwise, I'd make an offer that included a contingency that you had to approve a licensed survey in x days or deal was off & you weren't out any $. If there is a specific you want to be sure is included/excluded, say that. If necessary, provide an estimate of dimensions & give a tolerance you are willing to live with.

Understand that I wouldn't close without a survey & lawyer involved. This is the time to get this straightened out.
Gnirk
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by Gnirk »

[/quote]
Property should be surveyed by the seller prior to sale. Surveyor licensed, etc. Description and new survey filed with the county and title company. Absolute guarantee that everything is in order, no unknown easements, encumbrances, etc.

Without the above, do not buy it.
j :happy
[/quote]

:thumbsup :thumbsup :thumbsup
Topic Author
goaties
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by goaties »

not4me wrote: Wed Aug 21, 2019 11:28 am
This is along the lines of what I was going to say. This isn't that uncommon in certain areas. OP, I noticed you said the legal description was "first" written in the 1940s -- is that the last time it was sold? In rural areas that tend to have low turnover & few "outsiders" buying, this is likely not rare.
From what I can gather the parcel has been in the same family since the 40s. The deed recounts the chain of title: they've just been quitclaiming it down from one generation to the next. Thus, no one has ever bothered to update the legal description since it was all in the family. I would, of course, engage a lawyer to make sure all was well with that.

I wouldn't be surprised if the bigger lot from which this one was obviously chopped was also in the family, so there could be encroachment which was never a problem before but would be now that an outsider is buying.

Thanks to all for your level-headed advice. I think I see how I might proceed, although I'm thinking I might look at other parcels first!
AtlBoglehead
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Re: Buying land - no metes and bounds description

Post by AtlBoglehead »

My son just bought a 61 ac farm in KY, no m & b, instead from this rock to that big tree. Bank required survey, which cost $12,000. Surveyed tract turned out to be only 55 ac. He closed anyway. So, my advice, be careful - early!
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