Real Estate Legal Descriptions for Deeds

Aerial view of a suburban housing neighborhood. Captioned: Real Estate Legal Descriptions for Deeds

What’s the real estate legal description that goes on a deed? A real estate legal description for a deed is not made up of the glowing words in a real estate marketer’s flyer — as grand as that would be! It is not simply a street address, or a tax description copied from the home county’s website. None of these make a deed legally able to transfer a piece of real estate from one person to another.

A legal description is a precise, legally meaningful and binding summary of a property survey. You can find it on the existing deed — that is, the last deed used to transfer the property. The legal description may have a border around it, or it might be indented to make it easy to spot. Sometimes it appears on an attached exhibit, incorporated by reference on the face of the deed. The description on a mortgage agreement or title insurance commitment should match the legal description on the deed.

Whenever an interest in property is transferred from one party to another, the real estate legal description is representing the property exactly. It is proof to lenders that the property is just as it’s shown on the deed, to be valued accordingly. And it allows a future surveyor to precisely trace a property’s angles, corners and borderlines.

It’s a hard rule that deeds have to include the property’s complete legal description. Each county has specific requirements for how that description is made, but the point is to submit the right description for the deed being prepared. That might be all you really want to know!

But if you are curious about the main types of legal descriptions, and the components that form them, read on. 

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How Real Estate Legal Descriptions and Surveys Work Together

Image of a field at sunrise with a couple of trees and a fence marking a property line. Captioned: How Real Estate Legal Descriptions and Surveys Work Together.

Real estate transactions involving home sales, deeds, mortgage loans, or deeds of trust all rely on a binding legal description. Mortgage companies, for example, need to be sure that the property is well described—and worth the money they lend to a buyer. 

A properly written legal description sets forth the county and state of the property. It allows a surveyor to identify precise dimensions and correct, historical borderlines.

Indeed, the existing legal description is based on the original survey. And a key task of the current survey is a verification of the accuracy of the property’s legal description. In short, real estate legal descriptions and surveys work together.

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An Error in the Legal Description of the Deed: What Happens Now?

An Error in the Legal Description of the Deed: What Happens Now?

What can the buyer do when a real estate deed carries an incorrect legal description of the property? Perhaps it describes the wrong parcel, or fails to reflect all land purchased in the sale. 

An error in a legal description of a property has consequences. It can affect taxes. As lenders extend loans based on a percentage of the property’s appraised value, footage mistakes can sink a loan approval. If the error is neglected, disputes can arise later, and they can become the stuff of nightmares.

Worst-Case Scenarios

Some deeds bear legal descriptions drafted using early survey methods, pre-dating GPS measurements. Some have errors in lot descriptions that get passed unwittingly from one owner to the next—a sort of legal time bomb waiting to take someone by surprise.

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