Real Estate Legal Description

There are 4 types of legal descriptions used in real estate in the USA:

  • Metes and bounds
  • Government land survey
  • Lot and block numbers
  • Monuments

Description by Metes and Bounds

Metes refers to distance and bounds to direction. A critical feature is the Point of Beginning POB.

Writing a metes and bounds description is a job for a land surveyor. A typical metes and bounds description is as follows:

Beginning at a point (POB) on the North side of James Street 50 feet East from the corner formed by the intersection of the East boundary of Peter Road and the North boundary of James Street; thence East 90 degrees 200 feet; thence North 300 feet; thence West 200 feet; thence direct to the POB.

Description by Government Land Survey

The rectangular land survey system was adopted by the federal government in 1785. It is used in all states except for the original 13 colonies, the states created from these colonies and Kentucky, West Virginia and Texas.

There are geographical locations all over the US that serve as a base reference. The principal meridians running North-South and East-West intersect at these locations.

In Florida for instance, they cross at a point in Tallahassee. Beginning at these points, the surveyors established lines every 6 miles North, South, East and West of the crossing point. Each of these squares are called townships. They are 6 miles by 6 miles, thus have an area of 36 square miles. lines running East-West are called township lines. The lines running North-South are called range lines. They are further divided up into areas of 1 square mile called sections. Thus there are 36 sections in a township. Each section contains 640 acres.

The sections are further divided up into quarter sections of 160 acres.

Thus the legal description of the parcel blackened in above could read: SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 all lying in Section 4 of Township 23 North, Range 13 East.

Description by Lots and Block

The most common method, but it requires plat maps to be lodged with the county public records. A plat map is an engineers map showing the land use for the land in question.

Areas are subdivided up into Subdivisions. The subdivision may be then divided into blocks and lots.

Thus a legal description could be Happy Valley subdivision, Block 3, Lot 4.

Description by Monuments

Not used where the land is valuable. It is similar to the metes and bounds description but it refers to physical, man-made or natural features.