"you can't get there from here"
by Stan Choate, Appraisal Tech / Valuation Associate
When people try to estimate the value of a property, they normally think about the finishes on a house, or the tillable acres of a farm, or the demand for commercial buildings in a growing city. Such considerations do matter greatly for the opinion of value, but appraisers must also consider factors which are not as commonly considered. One of the subtlest factors of property value is legal access.
To give a non-technical definition, legal access to a property means that you can get to it without being arrested for trespassing…or being shot by an angry neighbor. In most cases, a property is legally accessed by a public road. Sometimes an “easement for ingress and egress” is needed. This means that the owners of a neighboring property allow you to access your property by driving through their own. Easements usually become dirt or gravel roads privately made and maintained.
Legal access is an essential element of real estate appraisal. If a property cannot be accessed, then it cannot be effectively used by the owner. For that reason, lack of legal access has quite an effect for the value of a property. And yet, few owners—and surprisingly few buyers—stop to make sure that a property has legal access.
More than one appraisal project has been stalled or even canceled over issues pertaining to legal access. For that reason, clients seeking an appraisal should give thought to the matter, whether the appraisal will be ordered by a property owner, prospective buyer, or even a lender. Below is a list of some questions you can ask yourself to make sure your property has legal access. All of these are based on situations we have encountered here at Spurgeon Appraisals:
- Does a public road border or touch the property?
- If so, has the course of that road changed over time? If so, you might want to see if the road still touches the property, because it may not.
- In the absence of a public road, do you have an easement for ingress and egress over a neighboring property?
- If you do have such an easement, can you find a legal document describing it? This could be a deed or other contract. The appraiser needs such documentation to prove legal access.
- Did the land with the easement sell or transfer recently? If so, did the easement transfer as part of the deed? If not, then you most likely no longer have legal access.
- Has any piece of the property been sold which might cut off the remainder of the property from its former access point?
- If you have had title work done, did the title company include the easement in the title search? If not, that is a mistake that needs to be corrected for the future.
Finally, beware of assuming that you have legal access to a property just because you have often driven to it. It is possible to be mistaken on this point, thinking you have an easement when you actually do not, or thinking that the road is public when it is not. Even if you have driven there often, that does not mean you have legal access.
As you can tell, we have learned to be very thorough on this matter of legal access. At Spurgeon Appraisals, we will always put forth the effort to determine the value of your property as accurately as possible, even asking the less common questions.
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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