Understanding legal descriptions

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Understanding the legal description means understanding the survey system!

Understanding legal descriptions

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*Legal Disclaimer*

We are not attorney’s, a title company or any other entity that can legally disclose condition of title, warranty of marketability, or condition of survey. Please contact your closest competent professional that can render you good opinion on your specific situation. This article is for informational purposes only and gives only a brief overview of what a Legal description is and the basics of reading the information. The author is a Licensed Florida Real Estate School Instructor and Broker but is not representing any one particular person or entity by providing this information.

What is a legal description?

Understanding the legal description means understanding the survey system!

Simply put a legal Description is the exact position of a specific area of real property on the face of the earth as compared to it’s nearest landmark.

The Legal Description allows us to understand where that property is and what person(s) have legal claim to that specific property via the Title.

Another manner in which it can be stated is that the Legal Description is the boundaries of a specific parcel of real property that is recognized under law. It can be used as evidence in a dispute in court.

Where can I find the legal description?

There are several places the legal Description can be found for a specific parcel of real property.

The first and best place is always on the “Deed”. This is the instrument that was used to convey the legal ownership at the time of last sale (or transfer). The Deed holds the most weight because it is what would be contested if there were a dispute regarding a particular parcels legal ownership. The survey may have contained a mistake, but what is conveyed in the Deed is what sticks. So it is to be sure that making certain that the Deed reads the legal Description correctly BEFORE you complete the transaction is a priority.

You can also find the Legal Description in public records in several locations, including the County Property Appraiser. Each parcel is assigned a Tax identification Number so that when the County looks to collect the annual taxes in order to operate all it’s holdings, such as Unincorporated Areas and Incorporated Areas, it can narrow down to precise location the ownership area of any parcel within it’s boundaries. This is important to the County and Cities, but it is very important to the land owner as well to make sure they are not getting taxed more than necessary in accordance to where the property lies within the State.

Today it is easier than ever before to find this information since the State of Florida many years ago mandated that all Counties provide public access information online. In later posts we will be relaying information that can help to aid you in finding those resources to help you get the best information possible when it comes to vetting investment properties.

How do I read the legal description?

First you need to know there are four types of Legal descriptions.

Understanding the legal description means understanding the survey system!

  • Metes and Bounds
  • Government Survey System (GSS)
  • Lots and Blocks
  • Monuments

  • Metes and Bounds explained: This is a widely used system of survey. METES indicates the Distance, while BOUNDS indicates the Direction. First the Point of Beginning (POB) is established. Think of a clock. We start with the POB on a clock of 12 and work around that clock to establish the hours, minutes and even seconds. That is the same thing with Metes and Bounds. We can diagram a parcel in any form. It doesn’t matter if it is a circle, square or rectangle. The top image on this page shows a Metes and Bounds survey description. CLICK HERE TO SEE A LARGER VIEW. An example of a metes and Bounds survey might read like this: “Beginning at a point (POB) on the North side of Jerricho Street 50 feet East from the corner formed by the intersection of the East boundary of Thomas Road and the North boundary of Jerricho Street; thence East 90 degrees 200 feet; thence North 300 feet; thence West 200 feet; thence direct to the POB.”

    Government Survey System explained: The image above represents that of the Government Survey System. Today it is widely used to breakdown a very large geographic area, such as the State of Florida, all the way down to it’s smallest Cities and Towns. The entire system is actually quite simple to follow, once you understand the larger picture of how it is read. Reading it is best served in a reverse manner because of the way it printed on the Legal description. just image a square that represents the whole. Then quarter that square. Naturally since we are dealing with earth and the basis of the axis of North, East, South and West we would divide those quarters into appropriate labels. We can not use direct north as Point of Beginning (POB), so we use the left Northern Quadrant as Northwest, the right as Northeast, the bottom left as Southwest and the bottom right as Southeast. it is that simple. If you CLICK HERE you can see a larger image of the one above. Now you can see plainly how that works. Now we take each quadrant and break it down, and so on and so forth until we have precisely the parcel of land we are looking at purchasing or selling.

    Lots and Blocks explained: This is widely known as Plat Mapping. Subdivisions use this method to narrow down a specific group of parcels, usually smaller “lots” located on “blocks” within the larger spectrum of the Government Survey System and/or Metes and Bounds system. You find this quite often, maybe described as; “Take It Easy Trails Lot 1 & 2 Block C”. Further reference would need to be made on the recorded Plat Map to locate these two parcels, Lot 1 and Lot 2. This method is generally established by using an Engineer to draft out a parcel of land and break it down into the Lots and Blocks. For example, if someone sold a 40 acre parcel to Joyful Developers and then Joyful Developers wanted to sell say 100 lots they would need to break down that larger 40 acre parcel to establish room not only for the lots, but also for road systems, easements for utilities and other facilities, which would likely include Blocks in the description since the whole parcel would eventually not represent a square or whatever form it was sold to Joyful developers when all is said and done. CLICK HERE TO SEE A LARGER VIEW. Again, this is probably the most common way you will see a Legal description, especially when it comes to investing in Single Family Homes.

    Monuments explained: A Monument is simply an easily identifiable fixed location that is used as a Point Of Beginning (POB) when establishing a parcel of land. It could be nearly anything. Older Monuments used were sometimes not the best object such as, “the big oak tree at the west end of the land”. That description could easily be disrupted by natural forces, as well as later development. It could be something like an actual monument where an item such as a slab of concrete were used. CLICK HERE to see the image of the Florida Meridian Monument Marker. This is otherwise an archaic way of establishing a set limits on a parcel and is not readily used in most parts of Florida, except as established by legal precedent such as in the image where the GSS Monuments are established.

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