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Real Estate Legal Descriptions in Plain English

Legal descriptions of property, those all-important components of a Purchase and Sale Agreement, fall into two basic categories: platted and unplatted properties. Of course, there are many variations in each category! For your reference, we have put together a quick reference with examples below.

Click on any link below to see examples of various types of legal descriptions & the maps that go with them.

Platted is a general term for properties where a subdivision involving an approved survey map and plans that describe each lot or unit and that are recorded with the county. Subdivisions, shortplats, and even condominiums are under this umbrella. The “description” part of the legal description is a sort of shorthand that provides location and dimensions by referring you to a specific parcel on the recorded map.

  • Subdivisions often have “Lot and Block” legal descriptions which reference one or more lot numbers, sometimes a block number, the subdivision name plus the volume and page that it was recorded under in County records. In some cases the legal description may reference a recording number rather than volume and page – this is common with newer plats in Pierce and Snohomish counties. Click here to view an example of  a Lot & Block Map.

Example of a Lot & Block Legal Description

  • Shortplats usually involve fewer lots than a full subdivision (or “long plat”). The legal for a shortplat will typically involve a lot number or letter, and the recording number. Often it will include the city or county planning department’s file number as well.  Click Here to view an example of a Shortplat Map.

Example of a Shortplat Legal Description

  • Condominium legals reference Unit number, sometimes a Building number, and the subdivision name with the volume and page that it was recorded under in County records plus the Condo Declaration Recording Number.  Click here for an example of a Condominium Map.

Example of a Condominium Legal Description

Unplatted refers to all the other lots that don’t have an approved plat recorded. (It’s never a perfect world so there may be some exceptions to this rule.) These legal descriptions are all about location and dimensions.

  • Unplatted legals typically reference the Section, Township and Range that the lot is located in, plus quarter-section and sometimes a whole series of quarter-quarter details. These numbers refer to the public land survey system that covers the whole country into square-mile Sections. They allow us to pinpoint the exact location of a lot. Click here for an example of an Unplatted Parcel Map.

Example of an Unplatted Legal Description

  • Unplatted legals may take the form of metes and bounds (distances or dimensions from point to point that literally describe the lot).  Click here for an example of an Unplatted Parcel Map as described with Metes & Bounds.
Example of a Metes & Bounds Legal Description

Example of a Metes & Bounds Legal Description

  • Finally there may be references to other features (shorelines, roads, existing plats just to name a few) that may help to identify location or dimensions.

If you have questions regarding a legal description on your purchase and sale agreement, our property information specialists are prepared to assist.

If you have questions or comments, let us know by commenting below.  Or Contact us today at 425-255-6969!

Also, please click to view our related article: What Makes a Real Estate Description “Legal”?

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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: What Makes a Real Estate Description “Legal”? | Ticor Title Northwest

  2. Ben Felt says:

    I have a question:
    Can one legal parcel of land occupy two townships?

    Example: The East Half of the Southeast Quarter of Section 34, Township 16N, Range 4W, M.D.B.&M. and the North Half of the Northeast Quarter of Section 3, Township 15N, Range 4W, M.D.B.&M.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  3. Pingback: Topic #2 Post #2 9/16/2012 « gavinamoore

  4. David Watson says:

    Ben,
    Property can and often does cross section and township lines. Sections 34 and 3 generally share a common North/South border, Townships 16N and 15N also share a common North South border. If you look at the hyperliked map you will see that a boundary lines of land near the Eastern line of the Grays Harbor County line could certainly be in both the Southeast Quarter of Section 34, Twp. 16N, Range 4W and in the NE Quarter of Section 3, Township 16N, Range 4W.http://www.ecy.wa.gov/services/gis/maps/wria/townships/trs23.pdf

    Please feel free to contact me should you have further questions.

    Thanks

    Dave Watson
    Ticor Title Company
    Renton, WA
    david.watson@ticortitle.com

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