Corner stakes are one of the most important components of purchasing real estate, I have learned this over 25 years of selling real estate on San Juan. For the properties that transacted years ago, corner stakes were not a big issue; of course, nor was a water source, or a septic permit or archaeological areas. Times have changed in our rural area and the buyer must know what they are purchasing before they close.
To make an informed purchase decision on any type of real estate purchase, even improved, they must know the property’s boundaries. Within every contract I write I include that the seller is required to show buyer the stake locations and further agrees to hire a surveyor to mark any missing stakes. Many sellers strike this provision due to the added costs, but then I recommend to my buyer to hire the surveyor to find the corners.
Stakes go missing over the years because a tree might fall on them, a car runs them over, a neighbor might remove or relocate them and if they were wood, they rot. Of course, cows and horses love to scratch their chins on them. Surveyors mark a date on each stake and are required to record the survey if any new stakes must be set.
In some cases, we have found that the corners were set improperly originally. This is typically due to improvements in equipment with GPS and/or errors made back in the 1960’s and 1970’s when many of our subdivisions were platted.
I recall one map that indicated 100 feet of waterfront. When we taped it off, it was only 80 feet corner to corner. It was a very good thing we discovered this prior to closing so the buyer could make an informed decision.
Stakes on unimproved land are even more important. A buyer needs to understand the side, front and back setbacks, especially if the lot is waterfront, in order to determine if what they want to build, can actually be constructed in the space the County has legally allocated. Shoreline can be tricky to measure; the County uses a straight-line approach or corner to corner. In many cases the shoreline meanders. The County decides based on regulations, how wide and far back the home must be on a lot, which is important to know to determine if the lot is suitable.
One of the reasons corner stakes are so important is they disclose any problems with the lot boundary lines. It is not uncommon in rural real estate for fences to meander back-and-forth across the property line. Further, which is also not uncommon, there can be large and small encroachments such as landscaping, fenced garden, a greenhouse, the parking pad, a hot tub, or shed, or my all-time favorite…. an outhouse.
Lenders and buyers are typically accepting of a fence meandering a few inches over the line but anything more than 6-8 inches can be a problem. The lenders and buyers need to have the encroachment resolved prior to closing.
Merri Ann Simonson
Coldwell Banker San Juan Islands Inc