How to Find a Legal Property Description

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Finding a property description means turning up the deed or doing some research at the local property recorder's office.

Although it's just "home" to you, the property you've purchased has a legal description that may run to several words, numbers, directions and measurements. The purpose of a legal description is to fix the boundaries and placement of a house, adjoining buildings and lot. Finding the description means turning up the deed or doing some research at the local property recorder's office.

Description Formats

There are two different formats for legal property descriptions. The property may be described as part of a lot, block and subdivision. Each of these descriptors may appear as a name or a number. Or it might be describe by the "metes and bounds" format, a property is precisely measured by a public survey. Boundaries are measured using trigonometry and compass points, and physical features such as trees and boulders may be included. In many cases, the property is placed precisely within the given section of 640 acres, which is also part of a larger range and township.

Deeds and Online Research

Whenever real estate is transferred, the deed must carry the legal description. The legal description also may appear on your property tax statement. If you're searching for the legal description of another property, there are several commercial Internet sites that will provide the information for a given mailing address. These sources will often also include an Assessor's Parcel Number, the full nine-digit zip code, the assessed value, real estate taxes, status of liens or assessments, and the owner's name.

Recorder's or Assessor's Office

A visit to the county recorder or assessor's office may also be in order. These agencies usually operate out of a public administration building, city hall or county courthouse. Some but not all agencies maintain online property tax databases. Others only provide legal descriptions by request, either in person or over the phone. Since legal property descriptions are public information so you won't need to get a court order, subpoena or any other legal means to force disclosure.

Third Party Records

The attorney or title company that closed on the house will also have records of the sale that include the property description. Title companies conduct searches to ensure that the seller of the property has clear legal title to it and the right to convey the property to a buyer. These sources have the right to keep their own records confidential, however, and they may not be entirely cooperative or responsive to your inquiry.


About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.