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Understanding a Legal Description in Real Estate

When dealing with property transactions, one of the most crucial components is understanding a legal description in real estate. This intricate and technical description is a unique identifier for a parcel of land, ensuring no ambiguity about its boundaries or location. Whether you’re a buyer, seller, or real estate agent, clearly comprehending the legal description in real estate is essential. This knowledge helps prevent disputes and ensures the accuracy of legal documents, making the process smoother and more transparent for everyone involved. This blog will delve into what a legal description in real estate entails, its various types, and why it is a vital aspect of any property transaction.

Real estate investors like Steve Daria and Joleigh emphasize the importance of thoroughly understanding legal descriptions in their property dealings. Their extensive experience highlights how a keen grasp of these descriptions can prevent costly disputes and inaccuracies. By prioritizing this knowledge, Steve Daria and Joleigh ensure their transactions are seamless and legally sound.

Unraveling the Core of a Legal Description in Real Estate

Legal descriptions, colloquially known as “the legal,” constitute a cornerstone of all land sales and transfers. 

At their core, legal descriptions function as a means to identify a specific parcel of land. 

Rather than referencing a property by the owner’s name or street address, legal descriptions delineate its boundaries with unwavering precision, solidifying its existence within the confines of a legal document.

legal description in real estate

The Imperative of Accurate Legal Descriptions

In real estate, clarity reigns supreme. Ambiguity in documentation can catalyze protracted legal battles and potentially exorbitant disputes. 

Hence, a legal description in real estate must be precise and error-free. 

Even a slight inaccuracy could precipitate a scenario where the property’s exact boundary remains undefined, potentially depriving the buyer of their rightful acquisition.

Types of Legal Descriptions

Legal descriptions manifest in several forms, each tailored to various types of properties:

Metes and Bounds

A narrative description utilizing physical features like streams or trees to define a parcel’s boundaries. 

This method predates latitude and longitude, relying on compass directions and precise measurements.

Rectangular (Government) Survey System

Commonly employed in the Western United States, this system divides land into townships and ranges based on meridians, delineating land into mile-square sections.

Plat Method

Prevalent in urban areas, this method creates legal descriptions for lots in subdivisions, referencing maps or surveys approved by licensed surveyors to define property boundaries, easements, and right-of-ways.

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Crafting a Robust Legal Description

Drafting a legal description is not a DIY task.

Typically, professional surveyors and real estate attorneys undertake this pivotal responsibility. 

Each legal description must be tailored to the conveyed property and adhere to specific formatting requirements.

Key components include a clear starting point for the description, directional methods (utilizing cardinal directions), and precise measurements, often in feet. 

Examples of Effective Legal Descriptions

  • Rectangular Survey System: “Township 3 North, Range 2 West, Section 12, Southeast quarter…”
  • Plat Method: “Lot 10, Block A, Smithfield Subdivision, as recorded in Plat Book 2, Page 15, of the County Recorder’s Office…”

The Interplay of a Legal Description in Real Estate and Surveys

While a legal description serves as a written delineation of a property’s boundaries, a survey involves physically mapping and measuring those borders and specific structural specifications. 

While a legal description can sometimes be formulated without a new survey if one already exists and is legally binding, a survey is often indispensable to corroborate the boundaries outlined in the legal description.

legal description real estate

Importance of a Survey

  • Establishes property lines with precision.
  • Identifies encroachments and potential title issues.
  • Provides a comprehensive depiction of the property’s physical dimensions and features.

Verifying Legal Descriptions

The buyer is primarily responsible for verifying the details of a property’s legal description. 

This verification can be accomplished through various avenues, including reviewing the deed, conducting a survey, or cross-referencing the legal description with the local tax assessor’s office.

FAQs on Verifying Legal Descriptions

How can I verify the accuracy of a legal description?

  • Review the deed for consistency with the sale contract.
  • Survey to confirm property boundaries.
  • Cross-reference the legal description with records at the local tax assessor’s office.

What should I do if discrepancies arise in the legal description?

  • Address any disparities between the seller’s claims and the sale contract before finalizing the transaction.
  • Seek legal counsel to resolve differences and ensure accurate documentation.

Common Pitfalls with Legal Descriptions

Several pitfalls lurk within legal descriptions, including reliance on outdated or incomplete information, ambiguous boundaries, and omitting critical features. 

Updating legal descriptions is imperative, especially in response to significant land changes, parcel subdivisions or mergers, and alterations to zoning laws.

FAQs on Common Pitfalls

What are the risks of relying on outdated legal descriptions?

  • Potential discrepancies between the described property and its current state.
  • Increased likelihood of legal disputes or title issues.

How can I ensure the accuracy of a legal description after subdividing or merging parcels?

  • Engage a professional surveyor to update the legal description with the revised property boundaries.

Crafting Comprehensible Legal Descriptions

Although legal descriptions demand exactitude and specificity, they must also be understandable to laypersons. 

Clarity is paramount; a document inundated with jargon inaccessible to individuals outside the legal or surveying realm serves no purpose in property transactions.


A legal description in real estate epitomizes language, law, and land convergence in real estate transactions. As the unsung heroes of property documentation, they furnish an unassailable foundation upon which all transactions are anchored. Whether you’re a seasoned investor or a first-time buyer, comprehending this critical property component is not merely advisable — it’s imperative.

Remember, the stakes are high in real estate. A single misstep in the legal description can catalyze a cascade of legal entanglements. Treat the legal description with the reverence it warrants, for within its confines lie the boundaries of your property and, potentially, your peace of mind.

**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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