What is a Metes and Bounds Property Description?

Posted by Evolve March 07, 2022

Survey map sample

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 identification, tax assessment, and conveyance.

Metes and Bounds Legal Description

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. The property must 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.

Metes and Bounds Definition

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.

Metes and Bounds Example

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
  • 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 should form a mathematically closed figure. All state statutes for the practice of land surveying include precision requirements with very stringent tolerances for closure.

The Importance of the Metes and Bounds Description Components

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 notice differences in the metes component of a defined property line. This is due to the survey upon which the description is based and 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 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 before 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.

For more information on the components of the ALTA Survey, see our Handbook for Commercial Real Estate Due Diligence or contact us today.