Real Estate Land Descriptions Explained

Real Estate Land Descriptions Explained

In order to buy and sell real estate, there must be in place a method whereby the property being sold can be accurately identified. There are three (3) major types of legal land descriptions used throughout the United States.

  1. Government Survey System (Rectangular Survey System or Public Land Survey System)
  2. Metes and Bounds
  3. Recorded Plat Survey System (Lot and Block Survey System)

1. Government Survey System (Rectangular Survey System) Public Land Survey System (PLSS)

After the Revolutionary War ended, the United States Government needed a way to describe lands in the West to insure locating and selling. The system was created by Thomas Jefferson in 1785.

This system created a checkerboard of identical squares using longitude lines (north/south) and latitude lines (east/west).

The creation of the legal description for the Governmental Survey System is based on special longitude and latitude lines called principal meridians and base lines. (37 principal meridians in US) as starting points.

US Principle Meridians

Land Descriptions

  • Quadrangles: Quadrangles are 24 miles on a side. Uses a "check " which corrects for curvature of earth. Note, however, that quadrangle is not a legal term.
  • Townships: Quadrangles are broken down into 16 townships, which are created by intersecting range lines and tier lines
  • Sections: Townships are broken down into 36, 1-mile square sections (640 acres).
  • Parts Sections can be broken down into parts

Quadrangles → Townships → Sections → Parts

2. Metes and Bounds

Metes and Bounds are a legal real estate land system used to describe irregular parcels and plated subdivisions. Metes are a measure of length and bounds are boundaries. Additonally, Metes and Bounds uses the Bearing System.

Bearing System

The Bearing System uses degrees, minutes, and seconds for measurement and describes the angle between true north and an onjecy. For example, an object to the East would have an absolute bearing of 90 degrees.

3. Recorded Plat Survey System (Lot and Block Survey System)

The lot and block survey system is a method used in the United States and Canada to locate and identify land, particularly for lots in densely populated metropolitan areas, suburban areas, and exurbs. It is sometimes referred to as the recorded plat survey system, or the recorded map survey system.

The Lot and Block (or Recorded Plat) System has a map showing lot dimensions approved by the Board of County Commissioners.

For example,
Lot _ Block _ of Subdivision __ in the County of ______, State of ______________.

The three legal real estate land descriptions are important information that all real estate agents and brokers must understand to pass their real estate exam and receive their license.

To learn more about these land descriptions, view our Real Estate Principles course, which provides information on ethics of practice, titles to and conveyance of real estate, deeds encumbrances and liens, distinctions between personal and real property, appraisal, finance and regulations, and more.

Written and Published by: VanEd


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