Bock & Clark 2022 January eNewsletter

ALTA Surveys: What is a Metes and Bounds Property Description?

Metes and Bounds Property Description on an ALTA Survey There are many types of property descriptions. They include properties defined within a recorded subdivision; Section, Town and Range descriptions; parcels defined on a recorded parcel map; and one of the most common, a metes and bounds description. These descriptions legally define lands for the purpose of identification, tax assessment and conveyance.

The term “legal” is often included as these descriptions are utilized for the legal transfer of lands on documents such as deeds, land grants, etc. State statutes grant the County Auditor or Tax Assessor the authority to transfer properties. It is necessary that the property be defined by a legal description to recognize and convey the lands. The conveyance form (a deed or instrument containing the legal description) is then put to record at the County Recorder’s office so there is an official public record of the transfer and the description. The County Auditor or Tax Assessor will also rely on the description to evaluate the property for tax assessment.

A metes and bounds description can be lengthy, confusing and daunting to a novice who may not know how to read and interpret its narrative. The description defines the lands from the point of beginning (a property corner) around the entirety of the parcel, typically in a clockwise fashion, back to the point of beginning. Each line or course is described by two components, the “metes” and the “bounds”. The metes is the math of the described property lines that circumscribes the perimeter of the parcel. The bounds are cited to state what each line is bounded by. An example of a defined property line by metes and bounds would be “Thence North 89 degrees, 39 minutes, 47 seconds West, a distance of 147.33 feet (the metes), along the southerly line of property now or formerly owned by John Smith (the bounds)”. The math or the metes contains three parts to define the line, a directional call, an angle described in degrees, minutes and seconds and a distance typically cited in feet and tenths of a foot. In the above example, the directional call is North/West. The angle is 89 degrees, 39 minutes, 47 seconds (also delineated as 89° 39’ 47”) and the distance is 147.33’ (or feet). When calculated, observed, and reconciled by the surveyor, the metes or math should form a mathematically closed figure. All state statutes for the practice of land surveying include precision requirements with very stringent tolerances for closure.

When reviewing and comparing metes and bounds descriptions, such as recorded descriptions, new descriptions based on a new survey or descriptions for adjoining parcels, it is common to realize differences in the metes or math component of a defined property line. This is due to the fact that the survey upon which the description is based represents the best professional opinion of an individual surveyor. Usually, the differences are minimal between surveyors.

When differing opinions in the math occur, the “bounded by” component becomes an integral part of the description. Regardless of differences in the math, if the same recognized bounded by component is cited, it is understood that the lines are one and the same unless the surveyor reports any gaps, gores, or overlaps in descriptions between adjoining properties.

It is possible to define a property by just citing the bounds. Many past legal descriptions may have been presented in this fashion in the early formation of the country prior to surveyors or state statutes for surveys. A property could have been defined as being bounded on the north by the road that travels from Salem to Siler City, bounded on the east by the lands of Jones, bounded on the south by the low water mark of the Ohio River and bounded on the west by the Smith Farm. This certainly opens the door for disputes among adjoining property owners. Likewise, a property can be defined by just identifying the metes or math component of each property line without stating what said lines are bounded by. When presented in this manner, it would not take into consideration the differing opinions of surveyors and could cause gaps or overlaps of adjoining properties when descriptions are reviewed and compared.

A description that contains both the metes and the bounds presents the most objective way to define a land. The definition of the mathematically closed figure of the property by the metes component is revealed and contiguity is understood by stating the bounded by component.

Phase I Environmental ASTM Standard – 2021 Revision Highlights

Surveyor considering the Phase 1 ESA 2021 revisions ASTM International has approved a revision to ASTM E 1527 concerning Phase I Environmental Site Assessments. The revised standard (ASTM E 1527-21) replaces the 2013 standard and was approved on November 2, 2021. The new standard will be incorporated into the EPA’s AAI Rule and will take effect upon the adoption of the new standard by the EPA.

The revisions are minimal, by past standards, but end-users should be prepared and made aware of them. Following are some of the highlights.

  • Definitions of Recognized Environmental Condition (REC), Controlled Recognized Environmental Condition (CREC) and Historical Recognized Condition (HREC) have been clarified to reduce misclassifications of known or probable hazardous material product releases affecting the property.
  • The addition of new definitions including “Property Use Limitation” (PUL) and “Significant Data Gap” that were formerly not defined by ASTM.
  • Report requirements have been revised to ensure better consistency in the deliverable. Addressed items include: use of the term “subject property”; identification of RECs and CRECs; inclusion of more items in the Conclusion of the report; photos from site reconnaissance; and a site map.
  • Addition of Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) to the non-scope issues of the reporting standard.

The historical standard along with the above revisions will allow for more detailed and consistent reporting throughout the industry. NV5/Bock & Clark has already taken steps to incorporate the changes into its standardized reporting. Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact Jamie Ziemba at 1-800-787-8397 ext. 854 or email


  • NV5 is proud to again be a Platinum level sponsor of the global CREW Network.
  • Jim Brown, Director, has been asked to speak on the topic of the 2021 ALTA Survey Standards at the 2022 ACREL Mid-Year Meeting to be held in Amelia Island, FL on March 25, 2022. ACREL (The American College of Real Estate Lawyers) is a premier organization for U.S. real estate lawyers and its membership is by invitation only.
  • Laura Hengle, Director of Marketing, was elected to the 2022-2023 CREW Cleveland Board of Directors. She will serve as the Director of Membership.