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Linguistic Landscapes: How to Read Legal Descriptions of Property

Welcome to our blog, “Linguistic Landscapes: How to Read Legal Descriptions of Property.” Understanding the complexities and nuances contained within legal descriptions of property is crucial for anyone involved in real estate transactions. These descriptions, often filled with technical jargon and precise measurements, can be daunting to decipher without proper guidance. In this blog, we will delve into the essentials of how to read legal descriptions of property, providing you with the knowledge and tools to navigate this intricate aspect of property law effectively. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a novice in the field, we aim to make “How to Read Legal Descriptions of Property” an accessible and manageable task.

Real estate investors such as Steve Daria and Joleigh have often highlighted the importance of mastering legal property descriptions. Their success in the field can be attributed to a keen understanding of the meticulous details and terminology involved in these documents. By following their example and utilizing our guide, you, too, can navigate real estate transactions with confidence.

Why Understanding Legal Descriptions of Property is Important

Before discussing how to read legal descriptions of property, it’s crucial to comprehend that understanding the legal descriptions of property is essential for individuals engaged in real estate transactions, whether they are buyers, sellers, or real estate professionals. 

These descriptions provide the official and precise details of the property’s boundaries and location, essential for ensuring that all parties know what is being transferred. 

Without a correct understanding of the legal description, one could face disputes over property lines, ownership rights, and land use, potentially leading to costly legal battles. 

how to read legal descriptions of property

How to Read Legal Descriptions of Property: Unraveling the Terminology

To read a legal description of the property, start by identifying the type of description used, which could be lot and block, metes and bounds, or rectangular survey system.

Then, follow the provided details sequentially to understand the precise boundaries and location of the property.

Legal descriptions come in different forms, but you’ll encounter two main categories: metes and bounds descriptions and lot and block systems.

Metes and Bounds

Metes and bounds date back to colonial America when surveyors walked the boundary, using natural features like rivers and certain trees as landmarks (‘metes’) and marking the distance between these points with actual measurements (‘bounds’).

Example of Metes and Bounds Description:

“Beginning at a point in the southern boundary of John Street, which said point is 50.03 feet easterly from Yosemite Avenue…”

Lot and Block

The lot and block system, by contrast, is geometric and urban.

It is a shorthand developed for the broad streets and gridded city blocks that arose in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It crunches down properties into numbered lots and represents them on maps.

Example of Lot and Block Description:

“Lot 7, Block 2, Bayside Subdivision, as recorded in Plat Book 25, Page 67, of the Public Records of County, Florida.”

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Deciphering Deeds and Titles

Deeds and titles are the scrolls on which these legal descriptions are written, and they grant the magic of property ownership.

They come in various forms, each with its purpose and meaning.

Warranty Deeds

A warranty deed is a powerful tool. It establishes legal description and ‘warrants’ that the property rights are clear and the seller will defend them against any claims.

It provides airtight ownership security for the buyer.

Quitclaim Deeds

A quitclaim deed is a more casual affair — it conveys whatever interest the seller may have in the property.

As such, the legal description is necessary but does not ensure the same level of title insurance as a warranty deed.

Trust Deeds

Trust deeds are used when a property is bought with a loan.

They involve three parties — the borrower, the lender, and a trustee — and the trust deed serves as security for the loan.

Relating to the Real Estate Market

The meticulousness with which legal descriptions are crafted directly affects the market. Zoning laws, property taxes, and development plans hinge on these borders.

A misplaced ‘hereunto’ or ‘thence’ could delay a construction project, halt a permitting process, or even derail a sale.

Zoned In or Zoned Out

Legal descriptions pinpoint precisely where a property lies in the grand municipal quilt of zoning laws.

Is it residential, commercial, agricultural, or industrial? Can it be rezoned, and if so, at what cost and risk?

Taxing Times

Property taxes vary not just from city to city but from street to street. And it all starts with the legal description.

Assessors use this information to apply the respective tax rates, exemptions, and special assessments.

Mapping the Territory

Cerebrally walking the perimeter of a property isn’t just for surveyors and old-timey deeds.

Modern technology has brought mapping to the masses, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy.

GPS and Aerial Imaging

Global Positioning Systems and aerial photographs have revolutionized our ability to locate and describe property.

Accurate to within meters, GPS technology has made the old metes and bounds descriptions even more precise, and aerial imaging can provide a clear view of where that ‘old oak’ sits.

Geodesy and GIS

The science of measuring and understanding the Earth — geodesy — combined with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has taken mapping to the next level.

We can now layer flood zones, environmental features, and even underground utilities onto property maps, enriching the context of legal descriptions.

The Role of Technology

Title companies, surveyors, and real estate agents are harnessing technology to streamline the creation and verification of legal descriptions.

GIS Mapping Software

GIS software is becoming a tool for visualizing and sharing legal descriptions.

It allows for interactivity, layering, and up-to-date aerial imagery to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Blockchain and Smart Contracts

The brave new world of blockchain technology is eyeing real estate with a glint of promised efficiency.

Smart contracts with terms coded into them may one day automate title transfers with immutable legal descriptions.

Pro Tips for Legal Literacy

For those knee-deep in the world of real estate or who are about to take the plunge, here are some tips to keep in your back pocket when navigating legal descriptions:

Document All Changes

If there’s a variance, easement, or border adjustment, document everything.

Legal changes can be easy, but the paperwork should be as bulletproof as any other part of the description.

Triple-Check for Consistency

A wrong digit or a flipped sequence can make a transaction messy.

Always triple-check legal descriptions for consistency; if you’re unsure or need more clarification, recheck them.

how to read legal description of property

Stay Informed

Local rules change, and legal descriptions do, too.

Stay informed by attending local planning meetings, following changes in zoning laws, and asking the right questions.

Applying Your Knowledge

Armed with this understanding of legal descriptions, what can you do with it? Quite a lot.

Negotiating Power

A clear, precise legal description can be a powerful negotiating point for the buyer or the seller.

It can also determine the property’s value and potential uses.

Investment Potential

Knowing how to read legal descriptions of property is crucial when investing in property, whether flipping, managing a portfolio, or buying a dream home.

Legal Finesse

Engaging a reasonable attorney when dealing with complex legal descriptions is essential.

Ideally, someone with a real estate specialization who can read between the lines — both literally and figuratively — of your legal documents.


Legal descriptions stand between you and your property. They are not a barrier but a bridge — a linguistic handshake between real estate’s past, present, and future. It’s not just about looking into the fine print; it’s about understanding the profound statement that text makes about the land. Whether you yearn for the rolling acreage of a metes and bounds homestead or the crisp geometry of a lot and block abode, knowing how to read legal descriptions of property will make your real estate experience more prosperous and more secure.

Fluent in the language of land, you’ll find that legal descriptions are keys that unlock doors to opportunity, security, and prosperity. For the diligent literati of real estate, these descriptions are not just words on a page; they are the foundation of an entire industry, the roots of a home, and the horizon of a future.

**NOTICE:  Please note that the content presented in this post is intended solely for informational and educational purposes. It should not be construed as legal or financial advice or relied upon as a replacement for consultation with a qualified attorney or CPA. For specific guidance on legal or financial matters, readers are encouraged to seek professional assistance from an attorney, CPA, or other appropriate professional regarding the subject matter.

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