Monday, January 11, 2010

haven't talked about title for awhile..let's chat about getting a survey

Back in 2005 I insured a conveyance for a couple who purchased a lot that abutted a vacated alley.  The alley is the borderline between a township and a borough.  For tax assessment purposes the alley was deemed to be in the borough.  The neighboring lot sitting across the alley is in the township.  To keep things clear we'll call them BOROUGH  LOT and TOWNSHIP LOT.  These two lots are in two entirely different development plans.

The alley was unopened which is why it was vacated.  The ordinance vacating the alley was a borough ordinance and it gave the ownership of the entire section of the alley abutting the lots to the BOROUGH LOT.  The ordinance was passed prior to 1998 and all deeds in the chain of title since that time included an updated metes and bounds description which included the alley area.

When we processed the transaction back in 2005 we didn't pay any attention to the TOWNSHIP LOT.  We searched and insured the BOROUGH LOT.  As is our usual practice, we recommended in writing that the couple purchasing the land get a survey prior to closing.  They opted not to and we had them sign our usual hold harmless disclosure.

In 2007 the couple decided to have the property surveyed.  They chose a competent surveyor who correctly researched the deeds for adjoining parcels. [I make this distinction because in Pennsylvania we have no survey standards and there are surveyors out there who charge just as much but don't really do the work.]  The surveyor discovered a deed in the chain for the TOWNSHIP LOT which included a release signed by a former owner of the BOROUGH LOT giving up rights to one half of the alley.

The couple ignored the lot line defined by the surveyor and decided that they would rely upon the description in their deed which said they owned the entire alley.  They built a shed.  They built the shed not on the disputed land but near the disputed line - near enough to be in violation of the rear setback line if the local zoning official should choose to recognize the lot line defined by the surveyor.  Well, the folks are all nice.  Nobody wants to make a fuss.   TOWNSHIP LOT folks are okay so long as BOROUGH LOT folks don't use their half of the alley.  They don't mind the shed near the line so long as everyone agrees to the line.

All of this, BTW, was occurring without my knowledge until 2009 when I got a visit from our insured couple, survey in hand asking me to explain it all and figure out who was right and where the line really was.

Thankfully that surveyor made note of the source document and I was able to pull it online.  Viola!  There's the problem.

Let's back track.  In 1998 the BOROUGH LOT was acquired by a couple we'll call GREEN.  GREEN purchased  the BOROUGH LOT from the estate of an elderly lady.  At that time the TOWNSHIP LOT was owned by a couple we'll call RED.  RED heard the GREEN was buying the lot and since RED had been using the alley land for some time and hadn't been able to resolve the issue with the elderly lady, RED contacted GREEN and they worked out a deal because GREEN really didn't care about the back end of the lot.

RED hired an attorney.  I cannot tell if RED's attorney ever talked with GREEN's attorney.  This is where the whole thing got screwed up.  The executor of the estate of the elderly signed a deed conveying the BOROUGH LOT to GREEN.  Two days later RED signed a deed conveying the TOWNSHIP LOT to themselves and added GREEN as a grantor for the purpose of releasing any rights they had in a portion of the alley.

Nowhere in the RED deed was our lot described, referenced or recited.  I just don't get what RED's attorney was thinking.  How in the world would a title searcher connect this deed for a parcel in the township to the one in the borough.  They are on different streets and different tax maps.  The ONLY way this would have been discoverable is with a search of adjoining lots which is what you get when you buy a survey from a competent surveyor.

It would have been helpful if GREEN had remembered the release when they sold the BOROUGH LOT to the next couple who likely didn't get a survey and may never have measured out the length of the land or didn't care and therefore did not mention it to the couple who bought the land in 2005.

A survey seems like too much money or trouble prior to closing but it always amazes me how many people will eventually spend the dime.  You already own the land but at least now you know WHAT you bought, right?  Well, some folks don't mind paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a pig in a poke.  Not me, man.  I want a survey.

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