If you are in the process of buying or selling a piece of real estate, you are about to be (if you have not already been) inundated with a long list of legal terms and phrases relating to the sale of your property; two of which are your “deed” and “legal description.”

A “deed” of conveyance is simply a written instrument which is signed, sealed, and delivered at the time of closing from the seller to the buyer.  This is the legal instrument which will convey an interest in real estate from the sellers to the buyers.  In Pennsylvania, Sellers of a piece of property may sign their deed in advance of closing because the moment of delivery of the deed to a buyer, which could occur several days later, is the moment upon which conveyance of ownership interest occurs.
The “legal description” for your piece of property will be found within your deed and is defined as a formal description of real property, including a description of any part subject to an easement or reservation, complete enough that a particular piece of land can be located and identified. In Pennsylvania, we utilize a “metes and bounds” system to describe and identify a specific piece of property. If you’ve lived and owned property in other areas of the United States you may or may not be familiar with the “meets and bounds” system.  In short, the original 13 colonies utilize the “metes and bounds” system because our immigrant forefathers brought the same system to the America’s from England (which can trace its use back through the Romans, Babylonians, and even the Egyptians (Egyptian wall paintings dating back to approximately 1400 BC show workers measuring with a knotted line similar to measurements undertaken with Gunther’s chain, a surveying tool used 3,000 years later)).
Beyond the 13 colonies, the United States utilizes the Public Land Survey System (PLSS); the beginning point being located on a point on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
So why are your Deed and Legal Description important to you as a home owner?
You deed is your proof of ownership over the real estate parcel.  However, if you were to lose this document or in the event that it is destroyed by accident, do not panic.  Simply call your real estate attorney and ask them to provide you with a new copy of your deed; the reason they can do this (and the reason you do not need to panic) is because the “original” deed of conveyance is recorded and on file at the Recorder of Deed’s Office within the county in which your real estate is located.
Your legal description is important because it denotes the boundaries of your property. Knowing where your boundary markers are is very important for a multitude of reasons, the most common being:
•    To build a new home, addition, or deck expansion;
•    To understand where your municipal setback requirements are located before expanding your living space or installing a fence line and/or hedgerow;
•    To resolve boundary disputes; and
•    To resolve encroachment claims
Unless you have a background in surveying work or can physically locate the boundary markers on your property (also known as “monuments”) as denoted in your legal description, you may need to hire the assistance of a land surveyor so that s/he may create a graphic depiction, much like a map, of your property by using the “metes and bounds” to outline its boundaries and any other features that may impact your property such as easements, covenants, and/or restrictions. While land surveys typically aren’t required during residential real estate transactions, unless a contingency of obtaining a survey is a term within your agreement of sale, they’re extremely useful tools that can assist in clearing up a great deal of confusion before or after you purchase your real estate parcel.
To find a surveyor in Pennsylvania, feel free to visit the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors, or ask a trusted professional, such as a lender, realtor, or real estate attorney, who may interact with surveyors within your region.


This blog positing is made available for educational purposes only as well as to provide Central Pennsylvanians with general information and a general understanding about this area of Pennsylvania law, not to provide specific (or any) legal advice. Use of this blog does not create an Attorney-Client Relationship with the publisher, Covalt Law, or Nittany Settlement Company. This blog is for general informational purposes only.  Covalt Law is a law firm in State College, Pennsylvania and some of the information within this blog relates to legal topics. Covalt Law, LLC does not offer or dispense legal advice through this blog or by e-mails directed to or from this site.  By utilizing this blog, the reader agrees that the information contained herein does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice and no attorney-client relationship or other relationship is created between the reader and Covalt Law, Nittany Settlement Company, or its attorneys.  Moreover, this blog is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified attorney licensed in your state or jurisdiction.  The information on this blog may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.  While the blog is revised on a regular basis, it may not reflect the most current legal developments or law in your jurisdiction.  The opinions expressed at or through the blog are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

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  • It’s good to know that a surveyor can make a map of a property so that we can have clearly defined borders and to avoid any future conflicts with neighbors. My father recently bought a large plot of land to build a ranch where he can spend his retirement days. It’ll be nice if I could get him to get a land surveyor to scope out his property now, that way he won’t have any issues once people start moving in around him. I’m sure the idea of having a headache with any future neighbors is something he’d want to avoid, so hopefully he agrees to the idea quite easily.

  • I had no idea that land surveying gives you an idea of which are the legal boundaries of the property you’re interested in. I want to help my uncle with his househunting plan for a retirement home. I hope this can convince him to seek out these experts as a start!

  • Thanks for pointing out that ALTA land title surveys can also help when preparing for some home additions to be done in the future. I’d like to look for a good service like that because I’m thinking about having a new sunroom in my home. I think that will be a great way to greatly increase the value of my home.

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