How to map property boundaries from a deed
week, I mentioned that the
shape of your property on the tax assessor's map could be wrong. So how do you figure
out where the real boundaries are? The geekily inclined will
enjoy pulling out their deed and mapping the property boundaries
Your deed will probably
have a section a bit like the first image in this post which lists a
series of directions and distances. A rectangular property would
only have four corners, but most properties in our neck of the woods
are oddly shaped and contain ten or twenty points, which complicates
matters. I like to sum up all of the points in a spreadsheet like
the one shown below to keep myself on track.
You'll notice that the first
six columns are copied directly from the deed, but where did the other
two columns come from? To calculate decimal degrees, divide the
seconds by 360, the minutes by 60, and leave the degrees alone, then add
all three numbers together for each point. I like to use a
spreadsheet rather than jotting down the numbers in a notebook since I
can set up a formula to do all the math for me.
The last column in my
spreadsheet shows how many centimeters I'll measure on my map for each
distance, which requires me to choose a scale. After playing
around with my sheet of graph paper, I settled on 1 centimeter for 200
feet --- you might want to set 1 centimeter equal to 100 feet on a
larger property or to 50 feet on a smaller property. You can also
measure in inches, but my rulers tend to divide inches up into eighths
and centimeters into tenths, which makes it easier to deal with
decimals on the centimeber side. Again, I set up a formula in the
spreadsheet and let it do all the math for me.
a side note, older deeds often list distances in poles and links.
A pole (also known as a perch or a rod) is equal to 16.5 feet and a
link is equal to 0.66 feet. Again, setting up your spreadsheet
carefully makes it easy to convert from these older measurements to
something you're more familiar with.
Now you're ready to
map! You'll need a sheet of paper (graph paper is better, for
reasons I'll explain tomorrow), a ruler, and a protractor. Since
I lost my tenth grade protractor somewhere or other and didn't want to
remember how to orient the protractor to deal with all the directions anyway,
I just printed out the image to the left, cut out a circle of paper
containing the protractor, and coated it with clear tape that extended
past the edges of the paper. I used my ruler to make the lines on
the protractor extend onto the transparent tape, then cut out a hole in
the center of the protractor to allow me to line the tool up
properly. Fifteen minutes later, I had the homemade protractor
Before you start, remember to
label north and the scale on your paper. Since the deed I was
working with mentioned that the boundaries listed start at the
northwest corner of the property, I set my first dot in a random
location in the upper left side of the paper. I set my protractor
on top of the dot (making sure north was lined up correctly), and made
a mark at what I estimate to be 63.3 degrees in the northeast quadrant.
Next, line your ruler up so
that zero is at the first dot, with the ruler making a straight line
through the second dot. Plot the first distance listed in your
spreadsheet. Now, go back and mark the distance and direction for
the rest of the points in turn. (I recommend plotting your
boundaries in pencil and erasing your direction dots as you go along so
you don't get confused.)
If you're really good,
your final line will end up hitting your first dot, but don't be too
concerned if it's a short distance off. Especially if you're
using a homemade protractor like mine, chances are you'll have to fudge
a bit at the end to make your property close up.
It turns out that this
time around, the county got it right --- the map I drew matches up
quite well with Google Maps' description of the property
boundaries. I guess I didn't need to make my map after all, but
it sure was fun. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on estimating
acreages using your newly drawn map.
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to add: Roland
created an awesome spreadsheet that makes plotting your property
boundaries and estimating the acreage inside extremely easy. Just
replace the letters and numbers in blue with your own, and the
spreadsheet does the calculating for you!