This Is Your Home’s Most Valuable Asset
A home isn’t just a building.
Land is truly real estate’s most valuable asset. The planet isn’t making more land. You can’t move your land.
You wouldn’t own a house without understanding its history and upkeep needs. The same holds true for the land.
While the property beneath the foundation may feel secondary to your big purchase, your investment also rides on the land under your home—the most valuable asset.
Why Land Matters
Say you want to erect a fence around your backyard. You’ll need to know exactly where your property line runs. Carving out a driveway or a garden triggers the same need. You don’t want to pave over the neighbor’s lot line.
The issue isn’t limited to bonus features you want to install:
- How does drainage run on your property?
- Who’s responsible for fixing it?
- If you want to retrench a ditch that no longer drains correctly, do you have the right?
- Who’s responsible for trimming trees? Or mowing certain sections?
These issues get to the heart of quality-of-life in your new home. It’s worth taking a few minutes to understand exactly where you—and your home—stand on the dirt.
History Lessons on Your Most Valuable Asset
Building and planning departments usually have this information, because they oversee development, construction, home improvements, building codes, permits, demolition, zoning rights, crop farming, environmental issues and other activities affecting the land.
Depending on where you live, you can check with a local municipality or a county office. They should have records for your land’s legal description and boundaries—and the clerks to help you find them. They should be able to give you a copy of the map of your parcel within a tract or subdivision. Some files include photos.
The file containing your land’s description will include the legal specifications or schematics of septic tanks, aquifers, wells, easements, the floor plan of your home, and other evidence of how your land has been used over time.
When you open escrow during a real estate transaction, you likely will trigger a title search that tracks recorded interests, encumbrances, claims of title, and other forms of ownership or claims against your land and its components.
That can include the current owner’s mortgage, titles, deeds, liens, judgments and other legal actions, the status of property tax payments, easements, and other claims against the property and its use.
However, the title search doesn’t stop at the current owner: it examines public records and any other depository holding a record of your property as far back as necessary to be certain you are buying a home with a clear title. That could include the assessor’s files, appraisal reports and homeowners association records.
A preliminary title report will document what the title search discovers.
If you live in a condo, you own land jointly with other homeowners association members—which partially explains why condos are less costly than single-family homes.
Condo buildings go up, so air space can become part of your “land”; your condo unit file may describe and map the air space (a different kind of valuable asset) you own within your association’s development—including the land beneath it all.
Room for Error
While most government records are complete and accurate, the sheer volume of records leaves plenty of room for errors and omissions.
If there’s a question about the boundaries of your land, its use, easements or zoning, you may need to hire a survey company or seek a title company’s interpretation. Have a surveyor or a real estate attorney review any documents you receive.
Ask a REALTOR® for their experiential knowledge as well, for one who has worked in the area for a long time may know some tidbits no one else does.
And if you make any changes to your property, document those as well. You never know when it might matter.