What is a Legal Description on Vacant Land?

What is a legal description on vacant land? A legal description on vacant land provides an official way to identify and locate a piece of property through detailed written language. Unlike a street address, which can change, a legal description is a permanent identifier used in legal documents to specify boundaries, dimensions, and the location of the land.

Navigating the world of real estate can often feel like deciphering a complex code, especially when it comes to understanding the legal description on vacant land. These descriptions are not just bureaucratic jargon; they are essential to identifying a property’s precise location and boundaries without the visual markers that come with developed land. In this blog, we’ll demystify the concept of legal description on vacant land, providing you with the knowledge to confidently understand and utilize these descriptions in your real estate ventures.

Steve Daria and Joleigh, seasoned real estate investors, understand the crucial role of legal descriptions in acquiring vacant land. They emphasize that a precise legal description goes beyond mere addresses, delineating a property’s exact boundaries and dimensions. Their success in real estate investment underlines the importance of meticulously reviewing these descriptions to avoid legal complications.

The Importance of Legal Descriptions

Before we dig into the minutiae of metes and bounds and the legal description on vacant land, it’s essential to understand why legal descriptions are indispensable. Legal descriptions are the methods used to identify and convey a property.

They provide an unambiguous definition of what is being bought, sold, or transferred. Without a proper legal description, a deed is a piece of paper that holds no value in the eyes of the law.

legal description on vacant land

The first step in understanding the legal description on vacant land is knowing what forms it might take. There are three primary methods of legally describing land:

  • Metes and Bounds: A system that uses physical descriptions, such as distances and angles, to describe the boundaries of a property.
  • Lot and Block: Commonly used in platted subdivisions, this system assigns a lot number and block number within a subdivision plat map.
  • Rectangular Survey System (Public Land Survey System): A system created by the federal government to describe land use compatible with the grid lines set by the Land Ordinance of 1785.

Established Land Measurement Systems

While a legal description on vacant land provide the linguistic framework for a piece of land, the measurement systems that assign the numerical data lend the description its specificity. Across the United States, several systems are predominantly relied upon.

The Rectangular Survey System (RSS) – more commonly known by its federal title,
The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) – is distinctive for using principal meridians and baselines to establish township and range lines.

These lines create a grid, much like the coordinates on a map. RSS is particularly prevalent in the western United States and is often used when dealing with square or rectangular parcels of land.

Key components of the RSS include:

  • Principal Meridians and Baselines: These longitudinal and latitudinal reference lines create the initial grid.
  • Township lines: Running east and west, these lines are six miles apart and form what is commonly referred to as a township, which is further divided into 36 sections.
  • Range lines: Running north and south, these are also six miles apart and help define the land within a township.

In contrast to the RSS, the Metes and Bounds system is more common for describing irregular parcels and those with natural boundaries. It’s one of the oldest systems and relies on a specific sequence of distances and angles to define boundaries. It often starts and ends at a monument, a point in space singled out as a landmark.

What Belongs in a Legal Description?

A complete legal description must be accurate and comprehensive. It may include:

  • A point of beginning, or “POB,” is the starting point for the description.
  • A sequence of metes and bounds descriptions detailing compass directions (N, S, E, W), angular measurements, and distance measurements, usually in feet and inches.
  • Monuments restricting the land can be natural, like a river, or artificial, like a fencepost.
  • Fractional descriptions that refer to portions of more extensive areas are often encountered when dealing with parts of a section in the RSS.

This information must be carefully documented, as any error could result in the rejection of a deed or questioning a property’s ownership.

Reading and Interpreting Legal Descriptions

To the untrained eye, a legal description can appear as hieroglyphics that require the Rosetta Stone of property law to decipher.

But parsing this text is not as mysterious as it seems. Each piece serves a function, and with a bit of guidance, you, too, can become fluent in the language of the land.

legal description vacant land

Starting with the Point of Beginning

All metes and bounds descriptions start with a point of beginning. This point can be any identifiable marker as a logical starting point.

It is the origin of the land’s description, like the longitude and latitude of the earth itself.

Following the Metes

“Metes” refers to a land description’s measured lengths and directions. These can be described in feet, inches, and degrees or as references to established landmarks.

They lead you along the property’s perimeter, often in a particular order to ensure a complete and unbroken boundary.

Using Monuments to Confirm Metes and Bounds

Monuments provide fixed reference points that often coincide with a mete. They can be “bearing trees” marked for this explicit purpose or artificial items like posts or piles of stones.

Monuments are used to confirm the correctness of the metes, much like a marker on a treasure map.

Closing the Circle

A competent legal description will eventually return to the point of beginning. This closure is vital to ensure the property lines correctly enclose the intended land without gaps or overlaps.

Special Cases and Exceptions

There will be times when “excepting” or “excluding” language appears in the description. This denotes areas or resources not included in the property transfer, and it is essential to understand and grasp the full extent of the property involved.

How to Map a Legal Description

It’s common to create a map to visualize a legal description. Surveyors or real estate professionals can map a legal description onto a plot, translating the textual description into a visual representation.

This map will show the boundaries, the abutting properties, and any roads or access points, providing a clear overview of the land in question.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

With such attention to detail required, it’s no wonder that mistakes can creep into legal descriptions. However, there are a few common errors that, with care, can be avoided:

  • Incorrect points of beginning: Beginning at the wrong marker can throw the entire description off.
  • Mismatched metes and bounds: If a point or distance is misreported, it can lead to a different land area than intended.
  • Missing or incorrect monuments: Monuments provide the empirical data that confirms or denies the precision of a description.
  • Quaint but unhelpful descriptions: While it’s charming to read about properties ‘by the sprawling oak,’ the reliance on such inexact terms runs contrary to the need for exactness in legal descriptions.

For any potential land owner or investor, understanding these errors will make you a more discerning reader of legal documentation, ensuring a complete and correct understanding.

A Buyer’s Guide to Legal Descriptions

If you’re on the path to purchasing vacant land, the legal description is more than just fine print to rush through. It’s an opportunity to ensure that what you’re looking to buy fits your ambitions perfectly.

Here are the steps to consider:

  • Research the Area: Before you receive a legal description, research the area. Are there landmarks adjacent to your potential purchase? Does the topology suggest natural boundaries? This knowledge can lend context to the eventual legal description you’ll receive.
  • Request a Preliminary Title Report: A preliminary title report provides a legal description of the property and any liens, encumbrances, or restrictions. It’s a critical document to review before proceeding with a purchase.
  • Hire a Surveyor: If the land is unmarked or neglected, a surveyor can locate or replace markers and produce an accurate map based on the legal description. Their professional input can validate the accuracy of the deed’s depiction of the property.
  • Ask Questions: Real estate is not a game for the shy. If you have questions or concerns about the legal description, ask. Sometimes, an unfamiliar word denotes a critical piece of information that changes the entire transaction.

Legal Descriptions and Zoning Laws

One aspect of real estate that legal descriptions interact with is zoning laws. Zoning laws prescribe what you can do with your land, from building heights to business types.

When reviewing a legal description, considering zoning is crucial, as understanding the laws governing your property post-acquisition is essential for good stewardship.

Zoning ordinances might impact legal descriptions by:

  • Changing allowable uses for specific plots of land.
  • It is shifting the value of the land based on the zoning’s economic impact.
  • I am alleviating or exacerbating disputes over land titles.

By marrying the legal description with local zoning laws, you can ensure that your new land not only belongs to you but continues to serve your purposes to the fullest extent.

Alleviating Disputes with Accurate Descriptions

Land disputes can be crippling. They tie up assets, they burn through time and money, and worse, they can sour relationships built on trust.

The simplest way to avoid such disputes is through the clarity and precision afforded by an accurate legal description.

A comprehensive and understandable description can:

  • Remind adjacent landowners of the agreed terms and boundaries.
  • Provide an undisputed line of ownership in cases of litigation
  • Avoid confusion in an ownership transfer.


Understanding legal descriptions is more than a comprehension exercise; it’s an act of due diligence. By familiarizing ourselves with this core real estate component, we empower ourselves to make sound decisions, negotiate strong terms, and secure our stakes with legally sanctioned permanence. We transform fragmented data into a coherent whole, ensuring that when we complete the purchase, we’ve bought the parcel on paper and the promise in our plans. Whether in the business of land or simply the company of living, mastering legal descriptions is a tool we can only afford to pay attention to.

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