How to Read Your Land Property Description

By Robyn Nelson - Updated June 07, 2017
Aerial view of  suburbs

Land property descriptions can seem as if they are written in a foreign language. Understanding how parcels are identified helps in reading specific land definitions. Most land in the United States was subject to the Public Land Survey System (PPLS) begun in 1787. This survey "sectionalized" land, dividing parcels into 640 acre squares called sections. Most descriptions are tied to sections and are defined in aliquot parts. Because the earth is round, some sections are less than the typical 640 acres. These sections use government lot descriptions. Land that has been annexed into city limits uses blocks and lot descriptions.

Aliquot Parts

Find the section in the deed that says "described as." In that area of the deed, the described land will refer to a specific part of a section. An example is "Northeast of the Southeast (NESE)." The letter abbreviations are used in the definitions for clarity, with N meaning north, S meaning south, E meaning east and W meaning west. These parts of sections are known as aliquot parts.

Draw a large square on paper. Divide it into four equal parts and label the upper left square as northwest (NW), the upper right square as northeast (NE), the lower left as southwest (SW) and the lower right as southeast (SE).

Divide each quarter area into four parts again. Using the same system, label the four small squares within the quarter the same way.

Locate the Northeast of the Southeast (NESE) on the diagram. This will show where the property lies in relation to the remaining parts of the section. The Northeast of the Southeast (NESE) would be the small upper right quarter in the larger lower right quarter of the original square. Shade in the located aliquot part. Read your deed and plot the property on the diagram you've drawn.

Read the actual deed description. If the description is using townships and then refers to a "lot," this is a government lot. Because the earth is round, each section can not measure the total 640 acres. Correction sections are included. The aliquot parts are measured in exact acres and can be odd numbers rather than standard divisions of 640. This accounts for the curvature and keeps the PLSS system correct.

Sections, Townships and Range

Refer to legal the description again on the deed. After the aliquot part, a section will be listed, along with a township and range. A township is a large square made up of 36 sections, all approximately 1 mile square. These sections are numbered 1 through 36 Each Township is 6 sections wide and 6 sections long.

Locate the section number. It may be abbreviated as "Sec." A number of 1 to 36 will follow. That is the section number.

Locate the township. After the section number, the township will be listed. It may be abbreviated to read something like T3N, meaning township 3 north. The earth is divided into townships running horizontally from specific points known as prime meridians. 3 north refers to 3 townships north of the prime meridian referenced on the deed. Township distinguishes the location from north to south

Locate the range. After the township, the range will be listed. It may be abbreviated to read something like R2E, meaning range 2 east. Ranges are the divisions running longitudinally either east or west from the stated prime meridian. Each range has the same numbered 36 sections as the township, but range distinguishes the location from east to west.

Blocks and Lots

Refer to the property description. If it says, for example, "Block 12 Lot 3," this refers to a specific developed area of a town, city or housing project. The underlying land would still have the section, township and range designation, but it is probably not listed on the deed.

Find a survey of the development, known as a "plat." This will show blocks and lots. A large chunk of land would be known as a block. The description might also reference the name of the sub-division or development. The plat often is attached to the deed, but if not, it will be referenced on the deed in the legal description and can be found in the clerk's office of the county court house.

Locate the specific lot within the appropriate block on the plat. Shade that parcel, as that is the property in the description.

Tip

Title companies have tracking books that show properties in Township and Range. Depending on the state, county courthouses categorize property by Township and Range.

Warning

Block and lot descriptions are different from street addresses. Block and lot descriptions are different than government lot descriptions.

About the Author

Robyn Nelson has been writing for 25 years, penning articles and ad copy for the motorcycle industry and articles about experiences in her professional career. She played college basketball and received a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Cal State University at Bakersfield. Nelson has coached many sports and has written articles about team sports.

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