How to Find Land by Legal Description

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Legal property descriptions set out the boundaries of a given section of land and can be used to locate the property on the county land survey plat. Finding the edges of a lot in relation to surrounding parcels clarifies exactly where property lines of one parcel begin and the next one ends. Property descriptions differ according to whether a state uses the metes and bounds system of locating using natural and man made landmarks or the federal township and range system where surveyors numbered properties on a grid, noting each by north or south of the vertical and horizontal center.

Things You'll Need

  • Legal property description of parcel from deed, land transfer or title insurance
  • Official plat map of the area
  • Magnifying glass
  • Ruler

Find Land on County Records

  • Obtain a copy of the county plat map at the county clerk and recorder's office in the county where the land is located. Truly remote land may require purchasing one or more plat maps from the Bureau of Land Management office of the state where the land is located.

  • Examine the plat map. The legend may use symbols to represent features of the land. Use a magnifying glass if the print is too small.

  • Use the ruler to measure distances shown on the plat map. The scale of the survey indicates how measurements on the plat map correspond to actual property measurements.

  • Compare the boundaries on the legal property description to the map looking for beginning point of the description.

  • Under the metes and bounds system, the description will begin at a corner and follow the boundaries of the land, locating the parcel in terms of neighboring properties that touch it, trees, rocks and streams, and circling back to end at the beginning point.

    Under the township and range system, lots will be numbered in relation to a grid set up on two intersecting lines running through the entire territory, an east-west running base line and a meridian line running north-south.

Tips & Warnings

  • When visiting the county clerk and recorders office in person, it is wise to get a certified copy of the section of the county plat map where the land is located, particularly the legal description, sometimes referred to as "the legal."

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