Providing Legal Descriptions

by Stan Choate, Appraisal Tech / Valuation Associate

Last year, one of our newsletters was dedicated to explaining the value of legal descriptions in real estate appraisal. We would like to continue that theme by giving our clients and prospective customers advice for providing useful legal descriptions to appraisers. Having this knowledge will help us service your needs more quickly and efficiently, saving you time and money.

Most importantly, nothing can truly replace a full legal description in real estate appraisal. This is especially true of farms, where every acre, added or lost, affects value. If the property has a legal description, the appraiser will need it. Sending the appraiser maps of the subject is helpful, but still not as helpful as sending a legal description—only the legal description can tell the appraiser whether those maps are correct. Also, the abbreviated descriptions of land found on parcel records and tax documents (see image below) are not sufficiently detailed for appraisal work. Deeds, purchase agreements, and surveys are the best sources for good legal descriptions.

 

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Between those three sources for legal descriptions, land surveys are beyond all doubt the most useful: they are done with the greatest precision, and they make use of existing landmarks which are easily identified. If the subject property has not been surveyed, the client should seriously consider getting a survey as part of the appraisal process.

Deeds, on the other hand, can be more frustrating. Though easily obtained, deeds are sometimes unclear and may even have mistakes. Most of the problems result from the age of their legal descriptions: many of them were written decades ago. The legal description may therefore use landmarks which no longer exist (like trees or old rural roads), or they might use creeks and rivers which have changed course. They might even make reference to other tracts of land which are no longer intact or which were sold to new owners.

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Other problems with deeds can result from the common practice of splicing legal descriptions together whenever landholdings are expanded. The person doing the splicing is not always careful, resulting in the inclusion or excepting of land by accident. In some cases, a tract is excepted from the subject property only to be re-included later in the same legal description—or vice versa. The appraiser may need to spend hours just deciphering such a legal description. Appraisers would rather have a deed than nothing, but it may create additional difficulties.

The best legal descriptions display the following traits:

  • They were written after the most recent transfer of the property.
  • They were not composed by splicing together older descriptions.
  • They use landmarks which are not easily altered.
  • They specifically chart the course of boundary lines using directions and distances.

A legal description with those qualities will allow the appraiser to identify the property and its acreage quickly and confidently. Otherwise, he will need time and assistance to determine the precise borders of the property. If the appraiser has a high-quality legal description from the beginning of the process, the appraisal will be finished more quickly and with less trouble.


Spurgeon Appraisals regularly appraises a variety of property types. We have experience appraising farms, residences, and commercial properties. We pride ourselves on providing excellent customer service and quality appraisals. Contact our team to see how we can meet your appraisal needs and exceed your service expectations.

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