Safeguard Your Sale: A Seller's Guide to Handling Property Line Disputes

By Lisa Marie Conklin

Owning the most stunning and sought-after home in your neighborhood is a dream come true, but if you find yourself caught in a property line dispute, it can quickly turn into a seller's worst nightmare. These boundary issues can deter potential buyers who wish to avoid the headaches associated with property disputes and neighbor conflicts.

In this guide, we'll explore what property line disputes entail and how you can resolve them before putting your home on the market.

Understanding Property Lines

Property lines serve as both legal and physical boundaries that delineate where one property ends and another begins. While some property lines are visibly marked, others remain inconspicuous. Knowing your property's limits is essential to prevent encroachments, trespassing, and potential conflicts with neighbors, particularly when making improvements such as installing fencing, landscaping, or building additions.

Types of Property Disputes

Property disputes often involve encroachments, where one property owner encroaches on a neighbor's property rights. These encroachments may arise without any antagonism between neighbors.

"Many people have no idea that their garages, driveways, fences, or even their pools may have crept over boundary lines," explains attorney Nina B. Ries, principal at Ries Law Group in Los Angeles. Typically, property disputes come to light when renovation or landscaping projects necessitate a survey to identify property lines. Alternatively, they may surface during the due diligence process when purchasing a property.

Some neighbors can tolerate minor issues, such as an overgrown bush spilling across the property line, while others may seek an easement.

Encroachment vs. Easement

Distinguishing between encroachments and easements is crucial. An encroachment constitutes the unauthorized use of another person's property, while an easement is an agreement between parties, granting one party legal rights to use a specific portion of another's property for personal needs.

For example, an easement could entail a shared driveway granting access to your garage or a pathway on your beachfront property leading to the public beach. Easements can be perceived positively or negatively by buyers, depending on the specific terms and conditions.

While an easement for a driveway may not pose an issue, an easement that ensures a neighbor's unobstructed lake view could deter potential buyers from planting trees, building additions, or engaging in activities that obstruct the view.

The Impact of Property Line Disputes on Sales

Even if you have comfortably tolerated your neighbor's garage extending a foot into your property line, a prospective buyer may not share the same sentiment. Easements, such as a shared walkway to the beach, might be seen as an invasion of privacy by some buyers, causing them to strike your home off their list of potential purchases.

Nina B. Ries notes, "For these reasons, if a buyer learns that part of their home or garage, a fence, a pool, or trees or landscaping is on their neighbor's property (or vice versa), they may rightly decide to abandon all hopes of purchasing that house and instead buy a property that does not expose them to this risk."

Delays in the Sales Process Due to Property Line Issues

Sometimes, boundary issues surface during the due diligence process for property transactions. Diane Vanna, a buyer's agent with Baird & Warner in Chicago, recounts a situation where a home seller was unaware of a property line issue. The title company discovered that another entity owned part of the seller's property. This delay was resolved via a title policy after thorough research.

How to Address Property Line Disputes

Here are steps to help you settle property line disputes and avoid complications during your home sale:

  1. Hire a Surveyor: Even if you believe you know your property's boundaries, enlist a surveyor to provide an accurate description, avoiding any last-minute surprises when potential buyers are involved.
  2. Negotiate Informally: If a survey reveals an encroachment without an authorized easement, attempt to reach an agreement with your neighbor through informal negotiations. A real estate attorney can help document the agreement.
  3. Seek Legal Advice: If you cannot come to an agreement on property boundaries, consult a real estate attorney who can guide you through your legal options and take appropriate actions to protect your interests. Alternatively, consider hiring a professional mediator to resolve the dispute amicably.
  4. Litigation as a Last Resort: Litigation should only be pursued as a last resort. It is costly, time-consuming, and stressful, potentially delaying your home sale for months or even years.

By following these steps, you can address property line disputes proactively and ensure a smoother home sale process.

Note: This information is based on current knowledge and may not cover all situations. If you encounter challenges or uncertainty regarding the resolution of property line disputes, it is advisable to seek professional assistance.

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