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Lyman J. (Greg) Gregory, III



90 Southside Avenue,

Ste 100

Asheville, NC 28801

90 Southside Avenue Suite 100


90 Southside Avenue Suite 100

A Legal Moment

The Importance of Property Descriptions

Part 2


        In my last issue, I told a horror story.  Poor property descriptions in two contracts led to neighboring owners both having deeds to a three foot strip of land on their common boundary.  The matter is likely headed for litigation.  I promised to provide information in this issue on using solid legal descriptions in your contracts.

        The general rule for property descriptions in contracts is that they must allow the land to be located with certainty on the ground.  Descriptions can be certain in and of themselves, or they can refer to other documents or information that provides the required certainty.  In practice, valid descriptions are plat references, metes and bounds descriptions, references to prior deeds, or addresses.

        The best description you can use is a plat reference because courts consider plat references superior to any other description.  If a plat reference is available, you should use it, after verifying the plat is still the most recent one recorded for the property.  People, especially developers during the subdivision process, often file amended or updated plats.  You should use the most recent plat that represents the property being sold.

         Metes and bounds descriptions, meaning compass headings and directions, are the most certain descriptions after plat references.  It is generally impractical and not common local practice to include such descriptions in contracts.  However, do not rule out the possibility of attaching a metes and bounds description when circumstances make it the best available description.

        Reference to a prior deed is a quick and secure way to describe property with the required legal certainty.  I have two cautions about this approach.  The first is to make sure that the seller has not sold any portion of the property.  If a sale has occurred, the prior deed reference will not work.  Second, if you are using a prior deed reference, do not rely solely on the blanks provided on the current form contract to make that reference.  The current form contract now states, "Some or all of the property may be described in Deed Book ____ at Page ____."  That is too vague to make a solid reference to a prior conveyance.  If you want to use a prior deed reference standing on its own, insert it in the blank for "Other description."

        A street address can also be a valid legal description; however, it is extremely risky.  I do not recommend using only a street address, but you should provide it for informational purposes.

        As a cautionary note, you should also not rely on Parcel Identification Numbers (PINS) as a legal description.  The PIN tax maps occasionally have mistakes, and PINs are subject to frequent change.  The riskiest practice I see is brokers completing contracts using only an address and a PIN.  It requires little more effort to include a valid legal description, and I suggest you do so in all your contracts.

        Finally, there is also humor even in property descriptions.  I have heard that a deed exists with a description that starts out, "BEGINNING where grandpa shot the bear . . . ."  If anyone finds that deed, please send me a copy.


Do not hesitate to contact me to receive more information on this topic or to suggest topics for future editions of 'A Legal Moment'. You may not rely on this content as legal advice for any specific situation, but should instead contact an attorney for specific advice.

Marshall, Roth & Gregory, P.C. • 90 Southside Avenue Suite 100 • Asheville, NC 28801
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