Where Is The Lot?
One of the most difficult things for many people new to the world of vacant land is finding the lot itself. Let's say you see a lot advertised in the local newspaper. You call for directions, and are told that it is on such and such a road, and 'you can't miss the sign'.
So you drive around and sure enough you see the sign. It probably tells you that the lot is 5.5 acres in size. But where does the lot start and end? Unless it is clearly fenced (and this is very rare), you may just be guessing. You've just wasted an hour's drive and you can't see what you want to buy. How frustrating.
I remember the following story told to me by a fellow land agent. Several years ago one of the realtors in his office took a dozen or so of his company colleagues to view a newly-listed lot. The realtor stood up proudly on a rock and pointed out the corners of the lot. His colleagues were duly impressed and trooped back to their cars.
Several days later, my friend went out to the lot on his own and met a gentleman clearing brush. My friend told him how saleable the lot was, and that it should sell quickly. 'Only problem is', said the brush-clearer, 'this lot's not for sale - the land you are selling is old Johnson's lot on the other side of the street'. Even realtors get confused sometimes!
Plat maps and parcel maps
The important maps that you need when locating the boundaries of a lot are the assessor's parcel map, sometimes called the plat map, and a parcel map if one is available. All land, with or without homes, are on an assessors map. Each assessors parcel number has a code of the form 123-234-45. These numbers represent the book in which the lot is located, the page number in that book, and the lot number itself. If a property is a condo, there may be a fourth set of numbers, but for vacant land the fourth set of numbers, if present is usually -00.
Fig.1 How to read an assessor parcel map. The lot numbers are show in circles inside each lot.
Legal descriptions of land get quite complex. When you look at a grant deed you'll find language like 'starting at the NE corner of the ...'. This section gives full information on interpreting this information.
Parcel maps are available if a parcel has been subdivided at some time in the past. Parcel maps give more information that assessor maps, which just give boundary information. From a parcel map you can usually see if a lot is approved for a home with a certain number of bedrooms, how much septic field is needed, and other useful parameters.
Maps are pretty well useless if the corners of a lot are not marked. Corners are usually demarcated by long white stakes. Once you've seen one, you'll know what to look for in the future. Unfortunately, owners who want to sell land are often lazy about marking the corners. Purchase contracts are often written to stipulate that the corners have to be marked before close of escrow, but that doesn't help the potential buyer who just wants to see where the corners are before he puts in an offer.
Up until several years ago, the only reliable way to show a buyer the corners of a lot was for the realtor to get the owner to point the corners out. That was before the advent of several wonderful computer tools like Fidelity Navigator, a program made available to realtors by the Fidelity Title Company. Navigator superimposes assessor parcel boundaries on an aerial map of the area, so given a color printout of the property in question, even a novice land person can get a good idea of the boundaries of a parcel.
Fig 2 The Fidelity Navigator application allows the real estate professional to superimpose assessor parcel number boundaries on aerial views of lots, and to identify the boundaries and ownership of adjacent lots.
Even more high tech is the free tool Google Earth, that many of you may have played with in the past year or so. The latitude and longitude coordinates are available for a lot when it is viewed with Navigator. By typing these coordinates into Google Earth, you can view a 3D relief image of the area around the lot you are interested in. Why drive for an hour to see a lot when you can see that it is on the side of a cliff in Google Earth?
Fig 3 The left hand image shows an aerial photograph of the area of the lot shown in Fig 2 above (north is at the top of the page). This picture was prepared using Google Earth. The right hand image is a 3D representation of the same lot created using Google Earth' 'Tilt' feature. The view is from the south.
This website has been written and developed by Rob Ransom, PhD. Rob has extensive experience working with buyers and sellers of vacant land in San Diego County, CA. Although Rob currently has a California real estate license he is retired from selling real estate.
If you have comments or suggestions regarding this web site, email Rob at the address below.
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